Review: For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad
PUBLISHED: 16:06 23 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:06 23 October 2019
Zawe Ashton is better known as an actress – she’s currently on Broadway in Pinter’s Betrayal. For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad, her eerie second play, was written over a decade ago but is only now finally brought to life in a production by Jo McInnes.
The territory and themes are familiar enough - a black woman's descent into depression and psychosis courtesy of a capitalist society that pushes women of colour to the margins.
Far from being another naturalistic slice of life with attitude, Ashton blends poetry, Greek tragedy and abstract modernism into an arcane mix that hits some poignant notes but is overloaded with ideas.
The story of Joy [Mina Andala], a hard-working career woman separated from her Nigerian family and living alone in London, is presented like a dream while five women and a child form a chorus that counterpoints the action with portentous observations.
'The sun kills the moon' is a key refrain and flood and drowning metaphors ebb and flow.
As Joy tells of her struggle to win promotion she conjures into the present women she knew at different stages of her life: a loyal family friend who relocates to London, a village elder with seer gifts, a babysitter - though this last one could be entirely imaginary as Joy's attitude to motherhood is ambiguous.
The scene where she has an accelerated pregnancy in a fantasy reunion with her mother is particularly memorable as her tummy inflates in real time.
But the magic realism leaves the status of the pregnancy unclear and it becomes increasingly difficult to join the dots.
Motifs about black women's hair and a reluctance to wear uncomfortable shoes to conform to social expectations bring some much-needed humour to what's essentially an over-complex, at times hammy, play.
The well-drilled ensemble is impressive, working as one to make the point that Joy's story is a bleak everywoman experience.
But the gloss surfaces and dingy lighting of the set make it look like a seedy nightclub. As Joy starts to unravel, the women's justifiable laments are swallowed by the darkness.
Rating: 2/5 Stars.
More details and tickets here.