The very best bits of theatre are capable of transcending their minimal and often awkward settings and ‘transporting’ their audience to far away places; Words and Women doesn’t so much transport its audience to its setting as transport its settings to the audience. Each monologue creates a little pocket of hospital room or hairdresser or dingy London flat, often quite vividly, with little more than well-put together costume and excellent acting.
There are six monologues, but only five are performed on an average night. I saw ‘Malcolm‘, about a female stalker, ‘A deep treatment‘, a simple but surprisingly powerful piece about a hairdresser, ‘Cool Uncle Andrew‘, a monologue by a teenage girl who was molested by a relative, ‘Moira and the rest‘, a dramatic but intriguing take on DID (better known as multiple personality disorder) and ‘By now‘, in which a drunken bride-to-be bemoans the fact that her life is moving slower than planned.
The range of tone and content is huge. ‘A deep treatment‘ is light and at times comedic; ‘Cool Uncle Andrew‘ is dark, ugly and difficult to listen to. My personal favourite was ‘Moira and the rest‘, which edges into the surreal; ‘Cool Uncle Andrew‘, though powerfully acted, struck me as the weakest and a little overdone, but there’s bound to be a monologue here that everyone will enjoy.
Despite all their differences, they share a few key qualities: they are all performed by women, and all deal with distinctively feminine experiences. Many of them give voices to kinds of women who would not ordinarily be able to ‘speak’. All are beautifully structured, never ending too abruptly or dragging out too long, and all are excellently acted; many a well-written Fringe show is let down by inexperienced or outright bad acting, but every performance here blew me away.
It’s rare for a show to live up fully to the promises made in its blurb, even when it’s a good or even excellent show. Words and Women‘s blurb promises a fresh and original take on the idea of the ‘female monologue’, and that’s exactly what you get. Though I object to their use of ‘whiney’ to describe more conventional women’s theatre, this show really is every bit as fresh and engaging as promised.