Based on the real events of a student invading the home of Germaine Greer, The Female of the Species sets past, present, and future feminists against each other to find the reckoning point between theory and practise.
Margot Mason (Margaret Olive) is a provocative feminist theorist who thinks she may have reached the end of her prolific publication rate and Molly Rivers (Lib Campbell) has been devastatingly impacted by the great feminist’s theories. When Molly arrives to seek revenge for her losses, Margot’s facade of the perfectly constructed life falls, revealing a harmful relationship with her daughter and a deep-seated disdain for love and authentic connection.
It’s not hard to tell Margot Mason is a character based on Germaine Greer. She is cynical and demanding; happy to make sweeping generalisations and commandments because she refuses to see the real-life consequences of espousing her intellectualised arguments and solutions. Mason is evasive, riddled with denial, prone to long diatribes, and, above all else, proud. Her contributions to feminism were once revolutionary, but are now old-hat and, once Molly has stormed her house, her presence on stage becomes largely irrelevant, merely acting as the stimulus for the other characters’ connections.
Molly meets Margot’s daughter Tess (Zoe Crawford) and her husband Bryan (Jock Lehman) who unravel a complicated relationship between feminist theory and the practise of motherhood, female sexuality, and gender roles. Manifesting feminism’s concerns in actual lives and complex characters is where Joanna Murray-Smith’s script works best; moving away from the textbook and into the real (staged) world.
In this play, the women take centre-stage to share their grievances and experiences and connect with each other both intellectually and emotionally. Within this living room, the men are caricatures: Bryan the woke feminist husband, Frank (Taufeeq Ahmed Sheikh) the macho anti-feminist bad boy, and Theo (John Grinston) the gay best friend. When given the room to breathe, Molly and Tess are able to explore and articulate what they want as individuals without the overhanging pressure of “what women want” from their husbands, careers, children, parents, etc.
Campbell as the wronged and angry uni-dropout is vibrant and great fun to watch. Molly’s exuberance is matched by Campbell’s constant consideration of her position, even when tossing books off shelves in the background. Crawford’s exhausted mother is much more dramatic and silly but equally engaging. There is room for nuance in the direction or delivery of Margot’s characterisation if only to humanise her more in relation to her daughter. Jess Davis’s direction does much to flesh out and enliven the characters of Molly and Tess perhaps to the neglect of their cynical sounding board.
The Female of the Species is about the people behind the great feminist theories, whether the ones who wrote them, who followed them, or who rail against them today. While it gives a lot of air to past traditions, it argues for the couching of future theory in the practise of living, wanting, and loving as a woman.
The Female of the Species is running at the Performance Space at St Aidan’s from February 8th – 23rd