Devised and Directed by: The Company
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
While much of the theatre world has migrated north for the Edinburgh Festival, there is still plenty of activity for anyone staying in London. The month-long Camden Fringe, now in its 14thyear has over 300 shows at numerous venues including a variety of plays, comedy shows and cabaret that will intrigue as much as they entertain or educate. Often a showcase for up and coming performers, the Camden Fringe is a chance to test out new work and to push boundaries,
Cognatus Theatre Company certainly does that in its new show The Ideal Woman running for four days at The Cockpit Theatre. The group of four performers (only three of whom are listed) set-out to explore universal themes from a woman’s perspective and with this show’s tagline of ‘Time to Make Herstory’ their purpose couldn’t be clearer. It’s a shame then that the same cannot be said for their 35-minute show.
Performed in the round, Cognatus have created a red spider’s web of string linking four candle-lit boxes placed at the corners of the stage. The women arrive at the stage from the four aisles of the Cockpit Theatre carrying large red church candles and chanting like a Greek chorus about to unfold a terrible tragedy. Suspended above the stage is a red gymnastic hoop which adds to what is an impressive visual spectacle as the audience take their seats.
The show itself combines monologues, more rhythmic chanting, choreographed movement and disjointed philosophical musings on the nature of womanhood and the too numerous societal pressures that dictate everything about our lives from the shape of our bodies to the decision to procreate. What Cognatus has to say is perhaps familiar in modern feminism although the way they choose to express it and the message of slow but steady progress is perhaps The Ideal Woman’s biggest contribution.
But it is a strange show to experience, some early rhythmic movement turns into a speech directed at the speaker’s mother, discussing birth and perfection with lines including “you gave me my humanity, my womanity” delivered with an awkwardly over-earnest tone. Soon the performers – including Vinna Law, Vanessa Borrini and Susanna Hyvärinen – are cradling invisible babies and showing them to the audience before morphing into a play sequence as both raucous young children and mothers dispensing advice,
There are lots of changes in tone as the group jump between different topics, taking in a monologue on regret at those you leave behind when pursuing your own dreams, a woman with bound hands repenting ‘vain desires’, manipulation and forsaking fellowship, and the eternal guilt that woman feel. But these more abstract moments are interspersed with some thoughtful and visually well-expressed ideas including Hyvärinen becoming increasingly entangled in the red web as external expectations weigh her down before the entire structure is symbolically snapped apart and tidied away.
Some of the more extreme ideas such as insisting they are the heirs of burnt witches need better, in context explanation and the overly sincere language might benefit from a lighter approach that capitalises on the wackier staging. However, The Ideal Woman has some interesting points to make and takes an unusual, visual approach to expressing their various concepts which Cognatus can build on to make a fuller piece.
Runs Until: 14 August 2019 | Image: Contributed