Camden Fringe review: Semblance of a Woman

Showing at Camden Fringe this week, Semblance of a Woman is a perplexing piece of devised theatre which uses dance, breath, mythology and a one-room set, at night, to tell the story of ‘Peggy’ (Emma Chatel) and ‘Gaia’ (Helen Baird).

Co-directed by Reya Muller and Isabelle Tyner, and designed by Hana Sofia, this is the majority queer, female collective’s Low Door Productions first show and collaboration. Deliberately ambiguous, it defies traditional theatre convention.

As Peggy wakes from fitful sleep each day, pulled back from her laptop into a bed which empties in stages of pillows, throw and teddy bear, her life is thrown into flux by the appearance of Gaia, rising from an under-the-bed space of messy clothes and memories.

Just who she is, what she means to Peggy, and why Peggy has withdrawn from the world is never fully explored. One scene concerning make-up nods to an expectation that women look and behave a certain way, but this is a fleeting moment.

Production photo of Semblance of a Woman

With four writers developing the piece (the two performers, co-director Muller, and dramaturg Kelly Thurston), Semblance of a Woman boasts many ideas about duality and growth, but stops short of a cohesive story.

There are tender scenes with both (excellent) actors reaching into the vulnerability and absurdity of their situations. Yes, Pygmalion‘s creator theme is an obvious influence, and Sappho, too, but it needs a little more.

A tentative touch feels profound, and the divesting of garments from Gaia’s cluttered load offers freedom. The window doubles as projection screen as the women watch shadows of life, of female empowerment (notably Medusa in Clash of the Titans).

A short piece (around 50 minutes) with scenes between the two women so brief they feel like dream flickers, it is a tricky ask for this play to fully connect with and interest an audience. I was feeling for a way in, but it stayed, tantalisingly, just out of reach.

Production photo of Semblance of a Woman

The use of music and film clips adds colour and leads to some discussions around why love is sometimes good, but why Peggy is so anxious and inhibited remains a mystery. Her interplay with Gaia raises the question of whether they are, in fact, the same person, ripped apart like worms.

Staged on this first performance at the theatre behind The Water Rats pub, the show had to contend with bar and kitchen noise, but so often exterior interruptions are part of fringe theatre and bravo to all fot powering through!

Semblance of a Woman boasts a different approach to the linear storytelling and accessible characters you might expect, letting the audience fill in the gaps – I just felt that aside from those little flashes, the gaps were too wide.

You can see this show at Theatro Technis on 8 Aug at 9pm: tickets here.


Image credit: Low Door Productions

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