Wednesday, 6 March 2002

The Loves of Shakespeare's Women by Susannah York , March 8, 2002

 Athenaeum Theatre
 6 & 7 March, 2002 then Adelaide Fringe
Reviewer: Kate Herbert March 6, 2002

We remember Susannah York as a luminous blonde screen beauty in movies. The Loves of Shakespeare's Women is another step in her return to performing the works of William Shakespeare, the Bard.

The performance is warm and engaging. She strolls the stage, sits at a small table or on a plain wooden chair in front of a striking design of three Elizabethan tapestries.

Twenty-one monologues from Shakespeare's plays or sonnets make up the program. She begins with the ingenues, the young lovers. Then she progresses to the menacing, the raging, the hilarious, or the grieving older women.

York is a waif-like creature as she appears in the first half in a silky white outfit that floats around her thin, girlish frame. Her voice is her most distinctive quality. It has a rich and fruity despite its slightly damaged, crackling huskiness. It is better suited to the older characters because of its chesty depth.

For those who know little of the plays, York succinctly explains the context of the speeches she chooses. Once the story is clear, the lighting shifts subtly and she launches into the character. It is a simple device and allows us to get acquainted with her as a personality as well as an actor.

Juliet's 'gallop apace" speech, she explains, was her nerve-wracking first audition piece. She performs Viola  (Twelfth Night) Rosalind  ( As you Like It) and Portia  (Merchant of Venice)

 All three speeches are by women cross-dressed as men. The irony being the fact that boys played Shakespeare's women.

York's anti-romantic character, Beatrice,  (Much Ado About Nothing) is a fine, wit who scares men.

After interval we see Cleopatra, the wild, vain, manipulative lover of Antony. Gertrude,  Hamlet's mother, is sonorous and sad after Ophelia's drowning. But most compelling is Emilia's (Othello) shock and despair at Desdemona's murder.

York is very funny playing both Mistresses Page and Ford (The Merry Wives of Windsor) agonising over their matching love letters.

But it is Queen Constance  from King John who steals our hearts, grieving quietly for her dead son.

Ms. York was appalled to hear Shakespeare might be cut from the UK curriculum. So she created The Loves of Shakespeare's Women. Someone needs to do it here to before we too lose the Bard.

By Kate Herbert

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