To She or Not to She

A slow-burn comic piece of theatre about theatre, To She or Not to She will have you chuckling all the way though, and absorbing the deeply felt feminist message without notice.

The uncannily accurate description of the auditions process has you giggling, then transfixed with horror.

This solo show is an autobiographical account of one woman’s journey following her passion of Shakespeare and acting, from school plays, through drama school and into the theatre industry. A journey chock-full of anecdotes and stories, from melodramatic teenagers, and king-pin agents, to the perfect explanation of why nobody should ever watch drama warm-ups (hint: they look ridiculous). However, running through the show is a sense of personal discovery of the sadly endemic tale of being unable to play interesting roles, simply by being a woman.

Emma Bentley has a strong grasp on character, the array of extra characters that rock up during the show is distinct and entertaining: just the right mix of reality and caricature for them to be real people, yet iconic enough to instantly recognise. Bentley’s transitions from a young and fresh-faced 14-year-old, confident she will convince her drama teacher to cast her as Hamlet (an idea that is sadly and unfairly laughable in hindsight) through drunken flirting as a student, to life as a young woman trying to live the dream in London, are completely believable through the use of subtle costume, stance and vocal changes to illustrate the growth of character. This makes Emma, with her endlessly watchable facial expressions, an endearing and lovable narrator.

There is also an anger felt in the piece, bubbling under the surface of the ‘follow your dream’ story. Bentley manages to capture this without feeling aggressive or preachy. There is a fantastically dark scene, where voiceover of snippets of women in theatre, talking about the treatment they receive every day washes over the stage, an agonising scene to experience. The uncannily accurate description of the auditions process has you giggling, then transfixed with horror.

As the storyline is fairly predictable, there is a danger of losing the audience’s interest by lack of tension in the plot, though this is mostly tackled by interspersing break scenes, moments with Olivier’s famous speeches - even so, there are still moments when the audience’s attention will wane.

Bentley sets out to prove that being a brave, drunken and messy human being is not something tied to your gender - I for one agree.

Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

'Frailty thy name is woman?! Oh get stuffed Will!' Armed with her record player, a fake moustache, some rudimentary feminism and a lot of questions, Emma is here to find out exactly why she can't play Hamlet. Or Macbeth. Or Iago. Or even just a downright Fool. And not just on stage but in real life! Emma Bentley dons the trousers in her debut solo show tackling the trials and tribulations of playing Shakespeare's men ... without a codpiece.