‘The Female Question’ works as a student theatre piece, where Shakespeare – along with a younger version of himself – meets with some of the female characters he created, hearing from them what they think of his depiction of women. As Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Kate and Ophelia present their woes, arguments and questions, the brasher younger self may learn a little – though not too much to alter what is yet to come – while the older Shakespeare gains some peace from this examination of what he thinks of as failures. This occurs within a setting of a paper strewn study, with celebrations of Shakespeare’s 400th ‘death day’ in evidence alongside the skull of Christopher Marlowe.
The views of the characters may well reflect the students’ views on them, if the performers had some influence on the writer-director, but were sometimes a little strange / strained. The choice to have the younger Shakespeare – in similarly ink-stained shirt – played by a woman is interesting, though does throw up the question as to why the elder Shakespeare is a man – why not go the whole way? A single male in the cast can carry some particular meaning, but here does not seem to, however he does show some subtlety and connection in his acting, and overall acting is decent, with moments of connection. Only one of the cast was overly given to demonstrating and, on this occasion, was often slow to pick up cues, but even so was able to hit some decent laughter points, for there is plenty of humour in the piece.
Mention is made of women in the plays being given the short straw, in ways that reflect their and Shakespeare’s times – being married off / tamed / killed – and there are some nicely woven in phrases from Shakespeare. Self-development, abuse, and mental health issues are touched upon. The resolutions for the characters and Shakespeare the elder are sometimes a little pat, and the questioning rather light / superficial, with a very modern outlook, but then this seems to be a play for young people today looking at Shakespeare’s relevance and attitude to women, or rather what can be interpreted – by this writer / company, at this time – from his works. For this reviewer, it would probably be more interesting to see what would be created further into their lives. It is not fully clear whether the writer-director is of student age or is focused on writing for that group at the expense of deeper psychological contemplation, but there are interesting ideas, and the difference between the two Shakespeares reflects thoughts on how the Bard of Avon’s works may have been influenced by events in his own life.
‘The Female Question’ is positive in its engagement of students with examining Shakespeare’s works and female characters. It is a play directed with some fine attention to movement and comedy, and it is performed with dedication and energy.