History and literature will have you believe that the only notable people in 17th Century Europe were men, and that the women were merely background players, uninteresting and unworthy of attention. But playwrights and actors Jane Bergeron and Carrie Ann Quinn of international collaborative theatre company Escape Artists wanted to feature dynamic female characters from that era, and with that in mind, Possessions, now showing at King Street Theatre, Newtown until 5th April, was born.
Jane Bergeron (left) and Carrie Ann Quinn as Hortense and Marie Mancini
Produced by Arts Radar, Possessions follows the lives of the intriguing Mancini sisters, Marie and Hortense, who were brought from Italy to the French court, to marry rich and well and live what was considered at the time a fairly fortunate life. But rather than let the hand of fate determine their lives, they both decided to take fate into their own hands.
The play is based on the sisters' memoirs - Hortense's memoir was the first piece of autobiographical literature to be published by a non-European woman in her own lifetime. It explores the themes of gender equality, relationships (marriage and family) and the idea that women were not given a "voice" (a good woman was a silent one). Hortense and Marie broke through this barrier and, rather than live their lives as their husbands' possessions, took back their lives and gained control of their destinies.
Artwork of the actual Mancini sisters depicted in the play, Possessions, now showing at the King Street Theatre, Newtown
This may sound heavy and hard-going, but Possessions is actually quite funny, at its heart it's a brilliant comedy about two sisters who support each other throughout their lives. It's presented both in the 17th century and in modern-day Sydney, as the plot and characters go back and forth between the Mancini sisters in Europe to the actors in Sydney, presenting the memoirs to the audience. It should be a confusing premise (perhaps not shared properly here!) but it's not, and you'll love the playfulness of this setup. They even chastise one of the ensemble actors, telling him, just as he's about to speak, "You don't have any lines in this play!".
(L-R) Jane Bergeron, Shane Waddell and Carrie Ann Quinn offering some comic relief
The modern-day references and music also kept it interesting and entertaining, and the stage design, although sometimes a little confusing with so much going on at any one time (actors on stage, then stagehands moving props) was very clever with their use of portraits of the Mancini sisters, as well as a selfie, and even a nod to everyone's go-to bible in times of confusion, Wikipedia.
Possessions is an interesting and enjoyable take of "girl power" in the 17th century, Like Thelma and Louise of the French court, Marie and Hortense Mancini showed the world that they can be just as strong, adventurous and wise as their male counterparts.