No Place For A Woman

The title does not playfully refer to the role of women in theatre as available at The Globe with Nell Gwynn at the moment. This is a sombre reflection on two women’s experience in the dwindling days of World War II Poland. However, there is an irony to the play’s construction, for the man to which their lives’ depend is conspicuously absent and so in fact there is ‘no place for a man’.

While it contains horrors which are at times uncomfortable it is an undeniably seductive duo of human stories.

Annie is told “this is no place for a woman” as Jews are shot while her husband attempts to find musicians among the line-up to perform at their private party. Remarkably, Isabella, a trainee ballerina, volunteers her talent.

The programme reveals too much in its mere two sentence explanation of the action to follow. For maximum effect, try to avoid finding out who the young Jewish ballerina (Isabella played by Emma Paetz) and the Nazi officer’s wife (Annie played by Ruth Gemmell) are addressing until you realise it for yourself. The joy of Cordelia O’Neill’s script is the disconcerting quasi-conversations that form the structure of the play. In the vast majority of the performance there is no reciprocation to their imploring storytelling. The two women are disconnected but bound together on stage. It is at its most frenetic when Annie and Isabella are having fervent conversations with what seems to be the audience, but which is written to sound as though they are responding to each other. It is an eerie effect. It keeps the audience genuinely second-guessing – hence the urge to avoid knowing who one of the addressees is until it reveals itself organically. When Annie exclaims “you thought I was her didn’t you?” the direct address to the audience does not go unnoticed and demonstrates a small snapshot into the way the play is layered and finished.

On a small stage with a tiny audience the lighting and design does brilliantly to subtly suggest different locations, atmospheres and states of mind. From the outset a cellist can be vaguely seen through a mesh which backs the stage. He not only aids the multiple allusions to ballet and music which flicker through the literal action, but serves an earthy live function in driving an ominous or fractious tone to the dialogue.

75-minutes flash by as the dialogue constantly gushes out of the two women’s differing distress - although perhaps ‘monologues’ is more technically correct. While it contains horrors which are at times uncomfortable it is an undeniably seductive duo of human stories. Both actresses seem to talk directly into the darkness in front of them as if they are picking out individual faces. It feels like a very personal piece, from them to you.

Reviews by George Meixner

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The Blurb

"An officer drove me up to gates and told me to wait, that it was no place for a woman."

The wife of a prison camp commandant is throwing a party. She asks her husband for champagne. Instead he brings home a ballet dancer from the camp.

Set towards the end of the Second World War, Cordelia O’Neill’s play combines theatre with live music and dance to tell the extraordinary story of two women, seemingly worlds apart, who become inextricably entwined in their struggle to survive.

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