In 2008, Meg Ryan, Annette Benning and Eva Mendes starred in an all-star re-imagining of the classic 1930s Clare Boothe Luce play, The Women. The film was set in the present day, and focussed on a woman who discovers her husband is having an affair. Said woman, naturally, discusses with her group of friends pros and cons of leaving her husband.
The film was probably meant to be a portrayal of intelligent women with the means to craft their lives as they like, but when I watched it I could not connect to any of these women at all, despite the problem of infidelity and the power of female companionship being universal.
When I saw that the play would be performed as part of this year's Sydney Fringe Festival, I jumped at the chance to see it. I was hoping it would recreate the 1930s world that upper-class women inhabited, in everything from the speech, to dress and of course, to the various societies available to women in that day.
All boxes were ticked with Edgewise Productions' adaptation of the play, so for anyone interested in an amusing play with entertaining performances, give this performance a go.
What makes this version work (as opposed to the 2008 film) is its setting in the 1930s, as intended by the author. I keep harping on about the film version because the play is so much a product of its time, and from a point of view that is very much set in that era.
It's an all-female cast, and whilst men (i.e. the husbands or lovers of the women on stage) are mentioned, they are never in the spotlight. The cast chat and talk with a speech owned by the pampered privileged of the day, if they're socialites, or, if they're playing shop girls and servants, with accents meant to reflect working class New York City. I look at the costumes of the cast and the way in which the cast carry themselves, regardless of their role, and I'm hooked. I'm transported to 1936, I'm in Saks Fifth Avenue, and I'm eavesdropping on the gossip and malicious rumours circulating on the shop floor amongst the manicurists and shallow socialites.
I'm in ... I love this!
There are a LOT of cast members, and it certainly looks like they're all having a blast on stage, hamming up their snooty characters or revelling in the banal chatter of gossip the script calls on them to recreate. Special mention goes to Rebecca Day as Olga (hammed up and thoroughly entertaining), Christie New as well-meaning, sharp-tongued Sylvia Fowler and Chloe Pryce as the Irish maid (although she may have also played other roles, as did many of the cast).
The Women's storyline involving Mary Haines leaving her husband isn't really what this play is about. If anything, it's an intriguing glimpse into a bygone era, and an eye-opening look at the class system of its time. The importance of social hierarchy and the ill-advised advice given to women at the time will also kind of blow your mind - if you tell a distressed woman today to "stop crying, your nose is going red", rather than comforting her following the news she learnt of her husband's infidelity, you'd probably be unfriended on all forms of social media. Similarly, you'd never, address yourself using your husband's full name ("I'm Mrs Stephen Haines", Mary tells a manicurist in one scene).
If you could compare the appeal of The Women, despite its outdated views, to anything around at the moment, I might liken it to Downton Abbey. Both open up eras and societies that are so interesting to us today.
In a nutshell, The Women is fun and thoroughly entertaining. The 1930s are brought to life by a passionate cast, and it's a real treat to get a glimpse into this world.