Women, Power and Politics: Part One, Then

Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
Director, Indhu Rubasingham

The past may be a foreign country but in terms of women’s rights, it’s a different planet. The first part of the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics season, Then, directed by Indhu Rubasingham, examines milestones on the way to the modern world. Topics range from the fight for women’s suffrage to Elizabeth I.

Handbagged, by Moira Buffini (the current writer in residence at the National Theatre), imagines the weekly audiences between Margaret Thatcher and the Queen. This wonderfully meta-theatrical, tongue-in-cheek piece manages to satirise without diminishing the achievements of either woman. Given that the audiences were private, this is fertile ground for Buffini’s imagination to take root: the young Queen (Claire Cox) will say one thing only to be sharply chastised by her older self, played by Kika Markham (“I never said that!”).

Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s The Lioness is a gift for Niamh Cusack in the meaty role of Elizabeth I. Cusack oozes confidence and her royalty is evident in her bearing and powerful voice. Lenkiewicz’s text is hammy in places but the central feature of the text – how Elizabeth uses her virginity as a kind of power – resonates today as strongly as ever.

Elsewhere, Marie Jones contributes a play about suffragettes in Ireland and Lucy Kirkwood’s Bloody Wimmin looks at the events of Greenham Common in the 1980s. It was refreshing to hear, courtesy of Kirkwood, feminism eloquently advocated by a male character. All this takes place in Rosa Maggiora’s versatile and witty set, with the figure of Britannia painted on the floor.

As in Now, verbatim accounts are dotted in between the plays and Gillian Slovo’s text is faithful to the point of parody – every single “erm” from Edwina Currie is recorded and magnified by a crisp Claire Cox, to the audience’s delight.

Then is a clear-sighted, coherent piece: there is enough distance in between our world and the events described for the playwrights to make confident statements and to create or re-imagine vivid characters. Jones, Buffini, Lenkiewicz and Kirkwood vigorously interrogate the different kinds of power exhibited by women over the decades: the power of beauty, the power of virginity, the power-suit and even, in the case of Margaret Thatcher, the power of the handbag.


  1. June 21st, 2010

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