Review – Eight Women – Southwark Playhouse

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While many people who go to see Eight Women at the Southwark Playhouse are doing so because they enjoyed the original movie (described to me as a “quasi-musical”), this was not the case for me. In fact, in a sort of ideal piquing of my general desire to go to see good shows with zero expectations, I bought tickets for Eight Women knowing absolutely nothing about it other than that my friend Kate wanted to go. She’s my co-conspirator in many of my obsessions, loving the Drowsy Chaperone unreservedly and encouraging me to check out such genius films as The Big Sleep while being willing to enjoy Xanadu. Katy’s seal of approval, combined with the Southwark Playhouse’s attractive ticket prices, was all the convincing I needed. So on Friday off we went to the (slightly less dank than usual) tunnels under London Bridge to check out this play.

If you, too, want to enjoy this show without any preconceived notions, you can stop reading after this paragraph; I enjoyed it immensely and found it not just entertaining but a good use of both my time and money. Is that enough? If not, keep on but be warned some minor spoilers may await, though I will do my best to keep it to a minimum. I loved seeing this show without a tiny clue about what was going to happen and advise it highly as the best way to ensure every surprise stays fresh.

For those of you who don’t want to be quite as clueless as I was, Eight Women is a murder-mystery featuring (shock!) eight women, who, in keeping with the Mousetrap style of this show, are stuck together … in an English country house … in the snow … that’s cut off from the outside world … and all suspect each other … of murder. Rather than being a bunch of strangers (like Mousetrap), most of these women are family – the mother, Goneril (Bernice Stegers); her two daughters, Susanna and Catherine (Kate Ward and Sophie Kennedy Clark); her sister, Regan (Sasha Waddell), and her mother (Tamara Hinchco), and the two servants (Maxine Howard and Alice Anthony). Setting it up this way enables the play to be much more about the relationships between the women, rather than just a guessing game about who’s not telling the truth about when they were iat midnight the evening before.

Unexpectedly, there are lots of long term resentments between the women, especially between mom Goneril and her neurotic, drama-seeking, hypochondriac, “old maid” sister Regan, as well as between the two of them and their own mother. Fortunately all of this is played for laughs from top to bottom (though the night I went the occasional loud noise did get some screams as well … from the woman sitting behind me), and the cast was well up for hamming it up, with both granny and Old Maid going for comedy gold in the second act while Mom continued stomping around looking a bit like a grumpy, middle aged transvestite. You could almost smell Almodovar lurking around the corner.

That said, the other actresses really dug into their roles, aiming at creating a great show with texture and flavor rather than trying all to be funny and ruining everything. The youngest character, Catherine, torn between tears (early on) and her naturally rebellious, adventurous nature was a spot-on depiction of bored and 16; the “long suffering maid” Maureen (Howard) had as straight a face as you could ever hope for, while appearing unaffectedly and genuinely warm in many of her scene; the “sexy new maid” Louise (Anthony) handled her character’s many transitions with aplomb, taking us all on her journey (which I don’t want to tell much about) most convincingly. Even the cat fight in the second act somehow made sense, which, if you consider that in the meantime Old Maid had been running around high on amphetamines, was a miracle of normality in chaos as the characters settled down rather like they’d just fallen off of a windowsill and were now going to pretend it had never happen.

I’ve got to hand it to the cast and director Elgiva Field; while this whole thing could have gone so far into farce that I completely lost connection with the characters and no longer cared about the mystery, instead I found myself cruising on a steady stream of laughs (great credit to Sasha Waddell for her star comedienne turn) tied together with steady, realistic acting that kept the whole bubble from completely floating away from reality. Okay, it didn’t seem that realistic – there were rather a lot of coincidences and let’s not forget the denouement – but I completely lost myself in the world of the play for the two or so hours I was at the theater, so much so that I even forgot to check my watch to see just how long the running time was. By golly, I just had myself a good time, and if that isn’t what you want out of a night at the theater than you’ll have gone to the wrong show. Yay to Southwark Theater for presenting this and I doff my hat to Katy for getting my tastes perfectly right again.

(This review is for a play that took place on Friday, March 25th, 2011. It continues through April 9th, 2011.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Eight Women – Southwark Playhouse”

  1. Ian Says:

    It sounds like you had lots of fun. Though the run ends on the 9th of April not the 19th. I’m off tonight!

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