Review Round-up: Was Greer Right About Species?
In 2000, Greer, whose ground-breaking 1970 feminist tract The Female Eunuch brought international fame, was held captive for an hour by Karen Burke, a 19-year-old Bath University student who broke into her Essex country house.
In The Female of the Species, Eileen Atkins plays Margot Mason, a pioneer of 1970s feminism and author of The Cerebral Vagina and other bestsellers. When committed fan Molly, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, arrives unannounced, she seems to offer a solution to Margot’s current writer’s block – but then she produces a gun. The cast also comprises Sophie Thompson, Paul Chahidi, Con O'Neill and Sam Kelly, all of whom become caught up in the hostage situation.
Atkins and Maxwell Martin both appeared in the UK premiere of Murray-Smith’s Honour, which was directed by Species director Roger Michell at the National Theatre in 2003. The new play is designed by Mark Thompson with lighting by James Whiteside and sound by Matt McKenzie. It’s presented in the West End by David Richenthal and Mary Beth O’Connor in association with Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer.
While not all overnight critics agreed with Greer’s assessment, none could resist referencing her in their reviews or expressing their own concerns that the play’s “spongy centre” shies away from any really challenging debate. There was high praise for Eileen Atkins who, critics unanimously believed, overcomes “the role's restrictions”. Sophie Thompson was also roundly applauded for her “wild-eyed” portrayal of Margot’s daughter. And, despite worries about lack of substance, critics were entertained by “an evening of wicked, educated and reactionary amusement” which contains some “genuinely amusing lines”.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com – “Roger Michell’s production of Australian dramatist Joanna Murray-Smith’s The Female of the Species opens more than promisingly, with Eileen Atkins struggling to remove her bra while answering the telephone and toying with titles for her next feminist tome – would The Utopian Fallopian give Madame Ovary a run for its money? – on a seductively picturesque design by Mark Thompson … Murray-Smith assembles her arguments in the same dogged way she assembles the cast list … The play dates from a Melbourne premiere in 2006, but sometimes feels even more passé than that (we’re all post-feminists now). Still, Atkins is delightful, squeezing laughs from trying to suck Scotch through a straw while manacled to her desk, or wrinkling her features in distaste at the news that her daughter was always mounted on a pedestal by devoted hubby. And Maxwell Martin animates Molly’s screwed-up plight … with a resourceful energy that betrays the play’s spongy centre and over-zealous insistence on discrediting past radicalism.”
- by Kate Jackson & Terri Paddock