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Theatre Review: Deeply moving reflections on female desire

The Patient Gloria
Theatre Royal


IN 1965 California, Gloria Szymanski goes through sessions with three psychotherapists. Organised and directed by the psychotherapist Dr Everett Shostrum, the sessions are filmed for the purpose of being shown to psychology students, but soon after they wound up on television and cinemas, betraying Gloria’s privacy.

Taking The Gloria Films as a starting point, The Patient Gloria mixes re-enactment, actual footage and the playwright’s own lived experience. The casual exploitation of Gloria’s private life is the starting point for a funny and poignant exploration of how men dominate, control and demean women’s experience of their own sexuality. It’s both laugh-out-loud funny, and deeply touching.

Gina Moxley plays the three psychologists who interview Gloria. They are smug and self-centred and take pleasure in shaming their patient. She comes in and out of character, switching in between physical comedy, sharp-witted commentary and deeply moving reflections on female desire.

For each character, she has crafted a penis, representative of their egotistic masculinity: a soft floppy one, made from a pantyhose, bird seeds and cotton wool for Carl Rogers; a flying one, soaring above the audience from a drone, for Albert Ellis.

Liv O’Donoghue plays Gloria Szymanski, a chain-smoking sexually liberated single mother. She is intelligent and open about her desire and brave, to expose herself in this way, in that very matter of fact, pragmatic manner only women are.

She patiently subjects herself to the psychologists’ cross-examinations, trying to fight back in a game which is already rigged against her, where the power sits with the educated and patronising men who exploit her.

Jane Deasy also sits on stage, accompanying the play with musical interludes on grungy bass guitar and occasionally stepping in as a narrator and commentator “rock mum.” The show ends on a crescendo, as the audience join in a punk rendition of Laura Branigan’s Gloria — chanting for the reclaiming of the G-spot from physician Ernst Grafenberg whom it is named after.

The play manages to treat a serious subject in a deep yet light-hearted way and without sounding preachy. If you think the subject seems heavy, don’t let it put you off, and you’ll be leaving the theatre humming along to the songs.


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