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Review Round-up: Power to Tricycle's Women

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The Tricycle Theatre's new cycle of 12 plays, Women, Power and Politics, exploring the history and current role of women in UK politics, premiered this week.

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham with associate director Amy Hodge, the plays, by writers including Bola Agbaje, Moira Buffini, Zinnie Harris, Marie Jones, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Sue Townsend, are presented in two parts: Then examines the historical aspects of women and politics, while Now takes a more contemporary focus.

The two parts are performed on alternate evenings, with an opportunity to see parts 1 and 2 on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The ensemble cast features: Niamh Cusack, Oliver Chris, Kika Markham, Simon Chandler, Claire Cox, Heather Cranley, Stella Gonet, John Hollingworth, Amy Loughton, Tom Mannion, Felix Stott and Lara Rossi.
  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “It’s as though the demands of compressed dramaturgy in Indhu Rubasingham’s project – co-produced with Tricycle boss Nicolas Kent and designed by Rosa Maggiora – have liberated these writers into genuinely experimental formats. It’s incredibly refreshing. And they are backed up superbly by a very fine ensemble of actors, notably in this first programme, Niamh Cusack as the weaver and Queen Bess, and Simon Chandler as a devastatingly tactful Buckingham Palace PR. The second programme of five plays is just as lively and no less surprising … All the plays are vivaciously directed by Rubasingham, apart from the Agbaje, which is vivaciously directed by Amy Hodge … Great ensemble work from Stella Gonet, Claire Cox, Tom Mannion, Kika Markham and too many others to mention.”
  • Paul Taylor in the Independent(three stars) – “It's a characteristically bold and imaginative piece of programming by artistic director, Nicolas Kent; the entire enterprise is directed, in a heroic feat of stamina and tenacity, by Indhu Rubasingham, and it's performed by a winningly vivid and versatile company of 12 actors … The result brims with good-humoured vigour but the pieces themselves are decidedly uneven … Some feel like 10-minute sketches over-extended to half an hour; others struggle to cram a full-length drama into the confines of a brief one-acter. The piece that fits its space best is Zinnie Harris' The Panel, a mordantly funny look at the pompous, variously prejudiced deliberations of an all-male selection committee who are tasked to choose a manager from a women-only short list. "
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “Buffini's work, hilarious and moving, dominates this typically ambitious Tricycle project. She cleverly splits her duelling protagonists into their older and younger selves. Mags and Liz have a spectacular fallout in the 80s … Very funny and entirely plausible, since there were serious divisions between the two women over issues ranging from the miners' strike to US use of British airbases for raids on Libya. Performed by Stella Gonet and Kika Markham as the senior Mrs T and the Queen, and Claire Cox and Heather Craney as their younger selves, Buffini's piece raises serious questions about that balance of power. But the nine women writers seem generally happier dealing with Then than Now … If the plays that make up 'Now' are less effective, it is because the writing is slacker and there is a prevailing sense that there has been insufficient progress”
  • Dominic Maxwell in The Times (three stars) – “Indhu Rubasingham has directed a fascinating look at why women are under-represented in our democracy - 143 in the new House of Commons may be a record, yet still makes up only 22 per cent of MPs … Some of the half-hour playlets, particularly Bola Agbaje’s spoof of sexed-up student politics, are sketches stretched to breaking point … Sue Townsend’s effort, about an MP crashing into the lives of a wounded working-class family, ends the evening clumsily. But each show contains one storming success. In Then, it’s the hilarious Handbagged, in which Moira Buffini presents the strained relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. In Now, Zinnie Harris’ The Panel stands out … The cast of 12 are excellent ... Whenever Kika Markham or John Hollingworth or Tom Mannion or Niamh Cusack come on, you know you’re in good hands."
  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “Last summer, the groundbreaking Tricycle staged The Great Game, 12 thoughtful plays examining Afghanistan past and present. Now come nine about women and their historical and present-day (under) involvement in British politics … In nearly five hours of drama written by some of our leading female playwrights, one line stands out in glorious, terrifying Technicolor. In Gillian Slovo’s verbatim interview, Jacqui Smith talks about 'a Parliament in which more MPs are called John than are women' … A project on this scale is bound to see misses as well as hits, but there are undisputed treasures in each section. Marie Jones gets 'Then' off to a fine start with an intriguing intersection of gender and religious politics in early 20th century Ireland, yet the highlight is Moira Buffini’s delightful Handbagged. ”
  • Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – “In striving to be all things to all women, or at least all things to the amorphous subject of how opportunities for women on these isles have changed down the years, this radical experiment in multi-authored joined-up thinking doesn’t deliver many answers … It may seem mean-minded to point out that, in five hours, there are only two truly outstanding playlets - Moira Buffini’s Handbagged and Zinnie Harris’ The Panel … The richest gems lie in the first batch, or 'Then' as it’s called … In general, it’s hard to praise the efforts of the 12-strong multi-tasking company too highly, and there’s terrific work from the younger actresses too, especially Claire Cox, Lara Rossi and Heather Craney … For women, attendance is possibly compulsory. As for blokes, it’s entirely possible they will all be tied up watching the World Cup this month but in the face of such a huge logistical undertaking and an epic labour of love, I’m tempted to say: stuff the football, it’s these British lionesses we should be cheering on.”
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