Review – The Female of the Species

Tuesday 15 July 2008

At the end of last week’s cliffhanger episode our heroes zeros had vowed never – but never – to go to the theatre ever again until they could once again wave at a Dame of the British Empire through a proscenium arch in a crumbling West End theatre…

Who would have thought it would be so soon before the Whingers found themselves at the Vaudeville Theatre in The Strand waving happily at Dame Eileen Atkins through the proscenium arch.

Their only problem was: which way to face?

For while their front row seats afforded them a first rate view of said Dame, the simple expedient of facing the other way provided the unexpected vista of two of the Whingers’ favourite actresses sitting together six rows behind them: Geraldine McEwan and Anne Reid.

A Dame, a proscenium, a Miss Marple and a Victoria Wood stalwart: it was like all the Whingers’ Christmases had come at once. Could a mere play possibly improve the evening any further?

Their “very close”* seats were indeed very close. The stage overhang not only afforded copious leg room (handy for Phil who leg-wise is to Anne Miller what his fellow Whinger is to Jimmy Krankie) but also a cavernous space for Andrew to have a much needed lie-down after all the excitement, or should the uninterrupted 100 minute play prove too much for him.

Fortunately it wasn’t needed. Joanna Murray-Smith‘s comedy proved to be most engaging.

TFOTS is “controversially” inspired by a real incident in which the noted Celebrity Big Brother contestant Germaine Greer was held prisoner in her own country home by a disturbed student.

In this version of events DEA plays feminist intellectual and writer Margot Mason who Atkins is at great pains to point out is not Germaine Greer. She has managed to get this across in her recent appearances on the chat show circuit despite interviewers only seem interested in her re-telling the story about turning down Colin Farrell’s sexual advances (You can see her telling the story to Jonathon Ross here).

Greer has seemingly taken great exception to everything about the play and the author voicing grand indignation at every turn. The playwright (who Greer has not met) is “an insane reactionary who boasts that she has not read a single feminist text” and the play (which Greer has not read or seen) is “threadbare”. Describing her reaction to an invitation from director Roger Michell to pop in for a chat, she said, “Pop in and chat? What kind of offer is that?” she said. “I’m a really busy person, whose time is precious. I will not waste it.”

None of which can have done the box office any harm.

Anyway, on viewing the play all the controversy evapourates: it is clear that Atkins Atkins is not playing Greer. Margaret Mason is an academic and writer who found fame writing an iconic feminist book called The Cerebral Vagina and becomes a hostage in her own country home when she’s visited by a disturbed student, Molly (Anna Maxwell Martin – excellent; completely forgiven for Cabaret). There isn’t a single mention of Celebrity Big Brother. Greer can relax – the Whingers could see no similarity at all.

There’s plenty to enjoy, many of the lines are funny (Madame Ovary is a great title for a popular feminist tract) but you do wonder how the writer is going to keep the conceit running as other characters (Mason’s daughter, son-in-law, publisher and a taxi driver) are introduced to the hostage situation.

Actually it’s done very adroitly. And the arguments – contrary to Greer’s assumptions – are not about feminism, but about the responsibility of authors to their readers. Mason’s philosophy – like Greer’s – has changed over the years, but the dogma of each book is fixed forever – the equivalent of speaking one’s thoughts carelessly aloud.

But it is really “just” a comedy (and, as Atkins has pointed out, quite different from her last comedy in that this one is funny) and the action fizzes along brightly between prisoner and captor until Mason’s daughter Tess (Sophie Thompson) arrives and completely steals the show.

But then the entire cast is good and everyone makes their mark – even Con O’Neill as a surprisingly articulate taxi driver who doesn’t even appear until the last 15 minutes. Ditto the wonderful Sam Kelly as Mason’s publisher who is squeezed into the last moments of the play.

The Whingers’ proximity to the stage resulted in a gun brandished inches from their noses (millimeteres in Andrew’s case) during an on-stage grapple. Had the cast seen them taking notes? Did Dame Eileen give the nod to take the Whingers out? Thankfully the play had no interval so there had been no opportunity for anyone to replace the blanks with live ammunition.

Greer may be frothing at the mouth at a play “inspired by” a terrible incident in her life but perhaps she should be more concerned by how much equality is taken for granted these days and how little feminism is discussed, especially given that the bunny girl is about bounce back as the Playboy Club is planning to make a comeback. Perhaps she ought to go and see it after all.

Phil is hoping that Late Review will get Greer back on the reviewing panel (he’s missing her anyway) and send her along to get her thoughts, but that’s clearly not going to happen, and seems unlikely that after this the programme will even touch it with a ten foot barge pole.

Greer’s sulk may be entertaining, but so is The Female of the Species and we cautiously recommend it as a very enjoyable way of passing an evening in the West End. Give DEA a wave from us.

Ticket Tips

* The Whingers acquired day seats for the marvellously bargainous sum of for £15. Strangely, these are not mentioned anywhere on The Female of the Species website but they go on sale at the Vaudeville Theatre box office from 10am. They are in the front row and the Whingers were warned that, “they’re very close” (the seats to the stage that is, not the Whingers to each other). The Whingers personally feel they can never be too close to a Dame of the British Empire. But if you have the choice, avoid the seats stage-left.

At time of writing The Female of the Species is also on the Tkts Booth Leicester Square and the newly opened one at Brent Cross, £47.50 reduced to £26.25.

There now Charles Spencer, you can’t say “I don’t think they’re very helpful” about the Whingers anymore can you?**

** Although, actually, it was ordinary-member-of-the-public Graham who found out about the day seats. He’s the helpful one really.

9 Responses to “Review – The Female of the Species”

  1. “We’re sorry, this video is no longer available.” You teases!

  2. Mea culpa. The video is available to view here:

  3. Helen Smith Says:

    Did you see the interview in The Times, 5th July where Eileen Atkins talks about finding the baby on the doorstep? Very funny:

  4. J.A. Says:

    Whinger à la Riseholme anyone?

  5. Natasha Says:

    I’m going to have to politely disgree on this one, it didn’t work for me at all. I had the strange sensation of arriving late at a party where everyone else had already had a good few glasses of wine and I am totally sober. People were rocking with laughter around me – one woman was actually bellowing – and I just sat there feeling a bit nonplussed.

  6. Charles Spencer Says:

    Spot on boys. How could I have been so hurtful? Apologies

  7. J.A. Says:

    Does the above sentence still work minus the “you,”?

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