The Female of the Species

Court One, Christchurch

27/03/2010 - 08/05/2010

Production Details

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is deadlier – and funnier – than the male, in the sharp new comedy opening at The Court on March 27.

Controversial author Margot Mason (Jude Gibson) has become a feminist icon with a series of bestselling works including The Cerebral Vagina, The Complete Insignificance of Male Sexuality and Madame Ovary. However, with her latest work overdue and a severe case of writer’s block, Margot is not in the mood for an unexpected visit from devoted fan Molly Rivers (Elsie Edgerton-Till) – particularly when Molly pulls out a handgun and handcuffs Margot to her desk. With a series of additional unexpected arrivals – including Margot’s publisher, daughter and an irate taxi driver- the play adds outrageous farce to biting satire.

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES was inspired by a real-life incident in which a student broke into Germaine Greer’s home and held the author hostage. Greer’s reaction to the play was to dismiss Murray-Smith as an “insane reactionary”. Audience reactions catapulted THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES from its debut season in Melbourne to international success including seasons in the West End and a recent season on Broadway starring Annette Benning.

Director Ross Gumbley enjoys the increasingly manic pace and intellectual content of THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES. “Great theatre has to start with a great script and Joanna Murray-Smith yet again proves herself the great mistress of the written word”. Gumbley is similarly thrilled with the abilities of the performers. “These characters are gifts and the cast have relished grabbing hold of them”.

Audiences are advised to hold onto their seats and enjoy the ride. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES runs until May 8.

Joanna Murray-Smith is the author of BOMBSHELLS and HONOUR, which were staged at The Court in 2006 and 2008 respectively. Jude Gibson first appeared at The Court in 1978; she most recently appeared in The Press Summer Season of ANYTHING GOES.

by Joanna Murray-Smith
Venue: Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Cast: Alistair Browning, Elsie Edgerton-Till, Martin Howells, Jude Gibson, Eilish Moran and Tom Trevella
Production Dates: 27 March – 8 May 2010 
Performances: 6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays).
2pm matinee Saturday 3 April

Tickets: Adults $45, Senior Citizens $38, Tertiary Students $26, School Children $15, Group discount (20+) $36, Matinee $29 (3 April only) 
Bookings: The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or 

You have to laugh

Review by Lindsay Clark 28th Mar 2010

There is not much new about having a laugh at feminism – or indeed at almost any serious -ism in the crowded canon of earnest social comment. This versatile and prolific playwright from Oz rounds up aspects of the great debate – who is to blame for what and what happens after the ‘wisdom’ – spitting out her tongue-in-cheek findings a with brisk wit that has brought major success not only on her home ground but also in Los Angeles and the West End.

So, swinging sophistication is in the air and Ross Gumbley’s comedic instinct is well exercised.

Set in the indulgent world of Margot Mason, acknowledged high priestess of feminist theory , author of such illuminating texts as ‘Madame Ovary’ and ‘The Cerebral Vagina’, the action stems from a familiar imperative: the publisher is on her trail for an overdue money spinner. Then come the surprises. Indeed, wonderful entry lines are a feature of the cavalcade of characters arriving in her country retreat, all with post post feminist theories of their own to contribute.

First up and catalyst for the trail of events is Molly Rivers, student, would-be writer, armed, and desperate for revenge, since neither she nor her mother has had much joy from Mason’s advice.

There follows an entertaining succession of individuals: a ‘loser’ married daughter, exhausted from the motherhood path to fulfilment; her bemused husband; the taxi driver with his own tale of marital woe; and finally the publisher, himself in for a startling revelation.

Thus are introduced multiple perspectives, reactions and verbal sparks; an entertaining whirl through human behaviour rather than feminist enlightenment.

The play builds slowly from a tenuous start in spite of Molly’s intrusion. Like the theory itself, we wonder if it is really going anywhere. Once the stage fills up, the push and pull of words and motives sparks action and ideas into a satisfying conflagration. The best dig is reserved for the professional writer, unable to make the simplest words work.

Since ideas and attitudes are at the heart of the dynamics here, actors are called upon to flesh out some tricky material into convincing stage life. All are capable and colourful, with especially engaging performances from Eilish Moran as the wretched daughter Tessa and Tom Trevella as the taxi driver.

Jude Gibson as Margot Mason (‘Madam Wordplay’) and Elsie Edgerton-Till as Molly set each other off nicely. Michael Lee Porter, an impeccable understudy for Alistair Browning, makes a splendidly bemused husband (Bryan) and Martin Howells, as publisher Theo, jollies things happily along in his turn.

The creative team is also strong. David Thornley’s abstracted set keeps us firmly in the realm of ideas. Towers of book shapes suggest mountains of ideas – none of them providing answers to the human problems encountered – and Bronwyn Corbett’s costume work provides sound clues to characters, even before their roles are developed. 

As Margot Mason herself discovered, anything to do with gender is perennially hot market material but it is probably fair to say that for most patrons feminist debate per se has lost its immediacy. Here, it serves as a useful springboard to observe how fragile our convictions really are, how absurdly self deluded we can be and how uncertain our certainties. You have to laugh.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo