Reviews/Cabaret/Fringe World Festival

Seriously remarkable women

20 January 2020

Ron Banks discovers there is not much to laugh about in the grim stories of how women have overcome patriarchy in Western culture.

Review: Timothy McDougall Imperial Magic, Astounding Women of Valour ·
Rubix Bar, 17 January 2020 ·
Review by Ron Banks ·

An early contender for “Most Serious Show at the Fringe” must be this compilation of stories about women over three centuries who have fought the good feminist fight in their own highly individual, sometimes idiosyncratic, way.

There is not much to laugh about in the grim stories of how women overcome the male sense of superiority in Western culture to find their own space as adventurers, explorers, scientists, educationists, politicians and other kinds of high-achievers.

What is astounding perhaps, as the title suggests, is that sometimes women had to disguise themselves as men before the sense of equality would be recognised.

Their stories are told by writer Bronwyn McDougall in straight-forward fashion, presented almost like a university lecture by young women performers coming forward one at a time on the stage and mostly reading from a script in voices that lack the experience of theatricality.

Most of these young women are nervous and hesitant, understandably perhaps because this may be their first time in a theatre setting. What the presentation lacks is a sense of energy and sizzle that could have come from a bit more rehearsal time, or more skilled direction. In fact, there appeared no sense of a directorial presence. It would have been better for the performers to have memorised their stories (as one young woman did) and not rely on the iPad or sheet of paper.

There could have been a touch of the visual, too, such as projecting at least the names of the women on a screen. It was hard to catch the women’s names. Perhaps that is because of the eight women’s lives briefly explained, only two were familiar (to me and most of the audience, I suspect.)

They were the blind and deaf educationist Helen Keller (and her teacher Anne Sulllivan) and Perth’s own high-achiever Dame Edith Cowan, who is on the $50 note. The rest of this remarkable bunch were names either neglected or simply unknown to the rest of the world. The point of the production was to bring these women into public view, and the show certainly achieved that.

We went away knowing something about bushranger’s wife Mary Ann Bugg, 18th century women Frenchwoman Jeanne Baret who disguised herself as a soldier, Englishwoman Hannah Snell who assumed a male identity to enlist in the army, Austrian travel writer and adventurer Ida Pfeiffer, and social reformer Annie Besant. Thanks to this serious little production we can now recognise their fine qualities.

Astounding Women of Valour continues until 8 February 2020 at Fairground at Rubix Bar.

Pictured top L to R: Natalie de Rozario, Diana Pekic, Keely Baker, Bronwyn McDougall and the audience volunteer Josie Mower. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Ron Banks

Ron Banks has reviewed the arts in WA for more years than he cares to remember. A former arts editor of The West Australian, he has reviewed performances in spaces from a dozen seats to super-stadiums. His only time on stage was as a spear-carrier in the opera Aida at Singapore’s sports stadium. His favourite playground equipment is the flying fox.

Past Articles

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