Review: Playhouse Creatures

A play of revolutionary substance which captures the defining time when female actors first took to the stage

Having attended several TFTV Production performances and having never been disappointed, Playhouse Creatures proved surprising in that it simply exceeded all that had come before. And how apt that it should, being what it is – a play of revolutionary substance which captures the defining time when female actors first took to the stage. The play demands a complex balance between gutter and glamour, determination and desire, and these were more than met by breath-taking performances all round.

Set in 1663, the Restoration playhouse is re-imagined by TFTV through contemporary eyes, helping to convey the links that still exist between the female actresses of then, and the female actresses of today. Both a celebration of theatre and a lamentation of women’s lack of autonomy, TFTV created a humorously entertaining performance that was dark yet deeply moving, a performance that will remain with you long after the applause has receded. Following the experiences of Mrs Betterton, Mrs Marshall, Mrs Farley, Nell Gwyn and Doll Common, the audience becomes encompassed – with the help of the enclosed, bear-pit style of the set – by their struggle and fierce competitiveness, as well as their shared love of theatre. We come to realise that each woman is passionately driven for different reasons, but they are ultimately connected not only in the risks that they endure, but also in the bond of sisterhood that prevails.

The actresses are creatures

It is this very bond that makes the play so moving, and enables the play’s overriding concern to survive the comic elements; that of female success equalling greater risk of failure. The injustice is captured in Anna Mawn’s intensely moving closing speech as Doll Common, where she describes watching her father rip the claws from an aggressive female dancing bear. For anyone as absorbed as me in the performance, this analogy cannot go unmissed, and you join Doll in being “glad that she fought back.” The actresses are “creatures”, Doll understands, and will be forced to deal with the cruel consequences of transgressing from the female ‘norm’ of submission. Such powerful symbolism is scattered throughout the play, and wonderfully cast forward through the use of meta-theatre, which incorporates scenes from Anthony and Cleopatra, Macbeth and The Provoked Wife, all combining to create a montage of powerful women at their most vulnerable. Indeed, the chilling scream of Lucy Theobald as she performs Lady MacBeth’s soliloquy could easily be the frustrated cry of the actress Mrs Betterton, cast out from the theatre and shown at her weakest.

Playhouse Creatures is a play for everyone and should be seen by everyone

As integral as the feminist component is to the play; there is far more to be appreciated theatrically. One would fail to do justice to the sense of the play if the role of its male figures, Earl of Rochester (James Dixon) and Otway (Harry Whittaker) were unacknowledged. The input that both male characters have – with the Earl having a large part in Mrs Barry’s rise to fame – infers that it is not a claim to female superiority being shown here, but a call for the unification of both female and male talents; for equality in the theatre. Linguistically rich, cleverly directed, and full of humour, Playhouse Creatures is a play for everyone and should be seen by everyone.


Author – Beth Kady