Becoming the Invisible Woman
Drayton Arms Theatre
Reviewed – 11th June 2019
“feels rather like being trapped in a Cosmopolitan questionnaire, or perhaps in the form that needs to be filled in before a health treatment at a spa”
Sarah Wanendeya’s play, in which she also takes the lead, starts from a simple premise: a woman ‘wakes up’ to find herself in an unknown country; she has become middle aged. Four other middle-aged women act as a chorus, leading her to understand where she is and how she got there, and guide her into her future.
The stage is set with an enormous pile of laundry and an overturned laundry basket; the 1930s classic ‘Keep Young and Beautiful’ plays. The opening of the show sees Wanendeya emerge from under the laundry heap, to be greeted by the four other women, in lab coats with clipboards. It’s a fun reveal, but the opening section, in which the women bombard our central character with questions, is problematic. It feels rather like being trapped in a Cosmopolitan questionnaire, or perhaps in the form that needs to be filled in before a health treatment at a spa. More importantly, the phrase ‘This is what middle-aged women look like’ needs to be challenged when the five women in question all have white skin. Similarly, the domestic drudgery of ‘wife, mother, cleaner, cook’ which our protagonist rails against, is far from common to all, but is instead a very particular, hetero-normative take on this period in a woman’s life.
Becoming the Invisible Woman steps onto safer ground when it more clearly becomes a personal story, and the ‘universalisms’ of middle-aged womanhood are left behind. We revisit Sarah’s fourteen year old self, and then track her early aspirations to be an actor, her discovery of the rave scene at Manchester University in the late 80s, where she met the man who would become her husband, and her emergence into a new, empowered, middle-aged self. Despite a couple of moments, in which we see Sarah giving birth, and dancing to the music she loves, this section is oddly restrained, and would have benefited from being more connected and visceral. This is Sarah’s story, but it somehow loses its power and specificity along the way.
All in all, this is a show which plays it safe, and could definitely afford to take more risks – in the writing, direction and performance. Pollyanna Newcombe (director) and her able team (Sound Designer Peter Challis; Lighting Designer and Operator Bryony Maguire) would perhaps have had more opportunity to play, had the four other cast members been slightly better used. There were brief moments when their individuality sparkled, but, somewhat ironically, ultimately Sophie Doherty, Wiz Kelly, Lizzie Parry and Karen Staples were reduced to the golden age number on their T-shirts.
Reviewed by Andrew Wright
Photography by Peter Clark
Becoming the Invisible Woman
Drayton Arms Theatre until 15th June
Previously reviewed at this venue: