You may feel during act 1 of A Society, presented by the Network Theatre Company, that you have wandered into a period drama parody, as Pol is tasked to read every book in the British Library and prove herself worthy of her father’s inheritance.
The source is Virginia Woolf, in which a group of women swear chastity until they decide whether it worth giving birth to one more male: after all, what do they bring to the world?
Performed with a thorough academic analysis as well as a tongue firmly in cheek, this play explores how women have been, and contimue to be held in place by the patriarchy.
In a world where women were seen to be happy with motherhood alone (it isn’t too long since a pregnant woman lost her job rather than being supported through maternity leave), A Society attempts to explore female options in education, science, health and the workforce.
As Woolf’s text gives way to the SCUM Manifesto of Valerie Salinas, the early 20th century defers to the 1960s, where women started to take charge of their biological destinies by birth control, and their career projections by attaining qualifications.
With the eight cast members now clad in black, they can take aim at the modern male, glued to his video games or mansplaining female ailments in a GP surgery.
There is particular energy displayed from cast member solo turns: Harriet Cadell, Hannah Dormor, Wendy Fisher, Linseigh Green, Eimear Lacey, Afiya Muir, Lily Tice, and Sarah Benman also convince as a tight ensemble.
Whether SCUM is taken literally, with the advocation of violence and the temoval of labour from the workplace and the home, or metaphorically by a quiet miscompliance with the rights of man, there is much to discusss here.
Where A Society misses the boat is by skirting away from any definitive conclusions about why we are where we are in terms of financial and professional power.
It could also benefit from more absurdity and physical movement to put across its perspective. There are moments I really liked in this play, which sets out to needle and provoke its audience, but as a whole I felt it could have taken more risks.
A Society …, directed by Dan Carter, closes tonight, 5 Feb. Tickets here.
Image credit: Network Theatre