To She or Not to She

★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 07 Aug 2015

For her Fringe debut, Emma Bentley has drawn heavily on research undertaken while studying at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. After examining whether female actors could gain stronger presence within the works of Shakespeare by taking on male roles, she concluded that this is absolutely the case. The big parts—the Macbeths, Lears and Othellos—are so iconic as to almost transcend gender, and to say that women can't deliver the most richly written lines in literature is to deny the sex gravitas. Even the memorable villains and fools are routinely cast as men.

 

Bentley's solution to these woes is to write and perform her own character, a complex, fully realised individual steeped in the conventions of both comedy and tragedy. Hers is an impassioned monologue loaded with stylised autobiography, the actor's emotions magnified to court our amusement and empathy.

 

She explains how she first encountered theatre industry sexism as a precocious 14-year-old, denied the privilege of playing Hamlet because her drama teacher couldn't picture a girl in the role. It's funny to watch an adult bitterly air decades old grievances, but our exuberant star underlines the crushing effect gender barriers have had on her throughout her life.

 

The play loses narrative focus as Emma recalls her experiences in higher education, and ultimately neglects to address the broader concept of privilege in the performing arts, but all faults are rendered redundant by a deeply moving, disarmingly sincere ending.