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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.


Women Without Men
Mint Theater   Summer 2020Y

New York's Mint Theatre specialises in rediscovering neglected plays from the first half of the Twentieth Century, like this 2016 staging of a 1938 drama by Irish writer Hazel Ellis.

The strengths of the play lie in its close examination of small lives; the weaknesses of the play lie in how little it actually finds.

This is an almost plotless character study of a group of teachers in the staff lounge of a small girls' school.

Any hints of salaciousness in the title are misleading. The fact that the live in an all-female world is less significant than the hermetic claustrophobia of their world, and the way being together brings out the worst in them.

While there is eventually a crisis, and one character leaves under a cloud, the main focus is on the petty day-to-day conflicts and the cost of such small lives to their souls.

The characters are a cross-section of stereotypes. There's the dessicated spinster, the snobbish pedant, the bright-eyed newcomer, the cynic and so on.

Comically tiny squabbles of the 'You're in my chair' sort alternate with glimpses into the pathetic emptiness of their lives. Alliances and betrayals come and go with a speed and randomness that would bewilder even their adolescent charges.

There is much that rings true here, but there is also much that is totally predictable once the stereotypes have been established. Nobody and nothing really changes – which, of course, may be part of the point, but which does not make for gripping drama.

Faced with playing characters written with only one note each, the cast and director Jenn Tuompson take the only choice really available to them – full commitment to the text, without a hint of condescension or ironic distancing, and their dedication carries the play over some of its weaker stretches.

Particularly impressive are Emily Walton as the newbie, Mary Bacon as the cynic and Kellie Overbey as the snob.

The multi-camera recording is skilled, though the sound quality wavers.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review of  Women Without Men - Mint Theater 2020