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Theatre Review Betties break boundaries

KATHERINE M GRAHAM is inspired by a show about women shattering gender conventions

Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties
Southwark Playhouse

ABSURDIST, funny, affecting and intelligent, Collective Rage is a wonderfully inventive piece of theatre.

US playwright Jen Silverman’s script, tightly directed here by Charlie Parham, interrogates the social rules that shape women and the actions it might take to break them via five personas named Betty.

They're a pleasingly mixed bunch. One is watching the news and learning to fight, another is lonely but willing to explore while a third is is going to leave her job at a cosmetics outlet and become the voice of her generation.

A fourth wants to work on her truck and isn’t sure about change while the fifth runs a boxing gym and has mostly good things to say about prison.

Betty 3, played vibrantly by Beatriz Romilly, has been to the theatre on a date with a rich white woman and, inspired, she decides to produce, write, star in and do the make-up for her own production.

She involves all the other Betties and they begin to devise their own play based, very loosely, on the Pyramus and Thisbe performance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or, as Betty 3 has it, A Summer’s Midnight Dream.

Silverman’s script makes clever use of its source, harnessing the same playful potential of desire and performance but never letting Shakespeare overwhelm by making the same theatrical devices much more radical.

Parham’s production is striking for its energy and the collective rage of the play's title is palpable as it's channelled towards breaking the rules and, in so doing, a powerful and previously contained vitality is unleashed.

Every performance is excellent, but Lucy McCormick as Betty 2, whose journey of self-discovery is empowering, heartbreaking and hilarious, stands out. Genesis Lynea’s Betty 5 is equally noteworthy and it's excellent to see such a charismatic and uncompromising genderqueer woman of colour freed from the burden of having to explain herself.

Collective Rage is a powerful interrogation of gender expression, desire and the centrality of queerness to them and Silverman’s script is grounded in the absolutely correct assertion that all femininity can learn from queer femininity.

It's also a vibrant refusal to buckle down and accept the rules. Go see.

Runs until February 17, box office: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

 

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