"Frailty, thy name is woman!" That is probably not most women’s favourite line from Shakespeare and could not be further from the truth when applied to Emma Bentley. She quotes it in context and contemptuously as part of her fast-paced and hilarious indictment of the theatrical canon in which most of the great parts are given to men. Add to that the dominance of men in positions of power in the industry and their propensity to abuse their oft ill-gotten status and you have the substance of Bentley’s polemic.
Well-timed and powerfully delivered.
It’s serious subject but To She or Not to She thrives on the premise that humour is often the best way to highlight wrongs, injustices and evil. Her initial lament focuses on the almost zero chance that she will ever play Hamlet or any of the great figures given to men. Even for audition pieces she is on dangerous ground not choosing a female part to demonstrate her talent and skills. The comedy is well-timed and powerfully delivered with plenty of business going on, but it carries a penetrating message that she heightens with snippets of verbatim recordings that testify as to how women are often abusively treated when simply trying to do their job. True to her profession she knows how to bring an audience down and lift them back up again. With large numbers of thespians present everything she said clearly rang true, from the secret moments people would rather not talk about to the situations that just have to be laughed at. Her concerns and portrayals would ring true in many contexts and this is piece for all seasons. This theatrical revelation is rooted not just in her life but in the lives of many.
Directed by Katherine Reinthaller, the play has won several accolades and made many sell-out runs. It’s easy to see why. There’s a slight issue with the epilogue, that fits uneasily between an ad-lib observation and a scripted finale, creating something of air of confusion and uncertainty as to its nature, but To She or Not to She shows that there’s more than one way ‘take arms against a sea of troubles’.
This play was presented by Threedumb Theatre as part of their Six Plays, One Day event at the Tristan Bates Theatre on 9th February, 2019.