The Female of the Species

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

03/05/2008 - 24/05/2008

Production Details

Elizabeth Hawthorne stars in The Female of the Species, Joanna Murray-Smith’s monstrously up front comedy inspired by Germaine Greer’s infamous brush with a crazed and confused young female student, which opens at the Maidment Theatre on May 1.

"A riotous night out" Courier Mail (Brisbane) 

Fashionably famous feminist author Margot Mason has always been deadlier and cleverer than any male she has ever encountered. But when she’s held hostage in her country home Margot’s comfortable life spirals hilariously out of control.

Bristling with wit and intelligence Murray-Smith’s new comedy explodes with ideas about gender, generational conflict and the power of the written word.

"this is a knock-’em-dead, reactionary rib-tickler" Variety 

The Female of the Species is Murray-Smith’s third play to enjoy success on the global stage having established its pedigree with sellout seasons in Melbourne and Brisbane, and with productions scheduled for Broadway, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth in 2008. Her previous international hits BOMBSHELLS and HONOUR which have played throughout the world and been translated into multiple languages confirmed Murray-Smith’s position as Australia’s most internationally successful playwright of recent years.

Murray-Smith will be in Auckland for the New Zealand premiere of The Female of the Species .

"The Female of the Species finds the funny-bone in feminism," says Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director Colin McColl, adding "it has all the satirical elegance of an Oscar Wilde farce." 

"Hawthorne is truly magnificent … an actress at the peak of her powers" 
 Listener (for DOUBT, ATC 2006) 

The Female of the Species stars Elizabeth Hawthorne in her 82nd professional production. She has achieved particular renown for her unforgettable performances in Auckland Theatre Company productions of MASTER CLASS, VITA AND VIRGINIA, THE GRADUATE and DOUBT.

"Margot Mason is a monster of a role for an actress" says McColl, "Elizabeth is just devouring it."

Brooke Williams, last seen on stage with Auckland Theatre Company in 2007’s THE CRUCIBLE and THE PILLOWMAN, plays the role of the crazed and confused young student Molly Rivers.

Hera Dunleavy, Adam Gardiner, Michael Keir-Morrissey and Brian Manthenga play a host of characters who enter the hostage situation one by one resulting in an increasingly improbable collection of people having increasingly absurd arguments, with all the classic farcical shifts of power and unexpected revelations.

The Female of the Species plays at The Maidment Theatre from May 1 until May 24. Bookings can be made at the Maidment Theatre 09 308 2383 or

Maidment Theatre, May 1 – May 24
Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 8.00pm
Matinee Saturday 17 May at 2.00pm
Sundays 4.00pm
Tickets: $25 – $54 (booking fees apply)    

Elizabeth Hawthorne
- Margot Mason
Brooke Williams - Molly Rovers
Hera Dunleavy - Tess Thornton
Adam Gardiner - Bryan Thornton
Michael Keir-Morrissey - Theo Hanover
Brian Manthenga - Frank

Set & Costume Design
Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting Design Brad Gledhill
Sound Design Eden Mulholland

Production Manager
Mark Gosling
Technical Manager Bonnie Burrill
Senior Stage Manager Nicola Blackman
Operator Robert Hunte
Properties Master Bec Ehlers
Wardrobe Supervisor Erin O'Neill
Set Construction 2 Contstruct 

1hr 30 mins, no interval

Walking the tightrope of farce

Review by Frances Edmond 12th May 2008

"The feminist bequest: dead mothers" – one of the many pithy, witty lines from Joanna Murray-Smith’s play The Female of the Species. Based on an incident in Germaine Greer’s life, one might have expected it to involve an investigation of feminist polemics, some analysis of social engineering. It doesn’t. Hung on the coat-tails of feminism, it is actually about motherhood, generational angst, the blame game, and fashions in writing and publishing, and is firmly rooted in conventional gender roles. [More]


Make a comment

Hits comedy heights

Review by Shannon Huse 05th May 2008

Say the word feminism and comedy is the last thing on anyone’s mind. But Joanna Murray-Smith’s The Female of the Species, Auckland Theatre Company’s newest show at the Maidment Theatre, makes the "f" word funny thanks to its mix of high thinking and low comedy.

Inspired by a real-life incident which saw author Germaine Greer held hostage by a deranged female student, the play literally takes potshots at feminist icons of old. In real life Greer made her own escape but in this play provocateur Margot Mason needs her friends and family to set her free. [More]


Make a comment

Hard fast laughs from feminism

Review by Sian Robertson 05th May 2008

Loosely based on an incident in which Germaine Greer was attacked in her holiday home by a crazed student, The Female of the Species doesn’t claim to be a biography, nor an academic exploration of feminism, but rather a scenario ripe with satirical potential, reaching riotously farcical proportions.

Elizabeth Hawthorne plays Margot Mason, an influential feminist writer. Eloquent, arrogant, Margot adores the sound of her own voice and has never been at a loss for a withering comeback. She’s at her desk struggling with the first draft of her next book, when Molly (Brooke Williams), a seemingly enamoured student who’s tracked her down via Google, walks in through the French doors and captures Margot’s attention with flattery and an extensive knowledge of her writings.

Suddenly Molly’s coy act turns to deranged rage and she pulls out a gun, blaming Margot’s books for ruining her life and for her mother’s death, and announces she’s going to kill her. "Men aren’t our problem, old feminists are." Outlining the hypocrisy of Margot’s books, Molly speaks mostly in Women’s Studies textbook sound bites, but comes out with the occasional breath mint of independent thought.

As usual, relative newcomer Brooke Williams gets to the guts of her role, her feisty but vulnerable Molly a provocative partner to Hawthorne’s ruthlessly entertaining Margot.

Hawthorn sinks her teeth into the role of Margot – the fact that she spends most of the play handcuffed to a chair doesn’t limit her formidable presence on stage one bit. She’s perfected the murderous glare and razor sharp wit of her character and is an utter delight to watch.

Though possessed of a towering intellect, Margot’s more interested in stirring things up than exposing the truth. The self-proclaimed ‘most interesting person ever’, she asserts that "feminism needs theatricality or it’s just a pompous winge".

When Molly accuses Margot (and feminism) of swerving wildly from one supposed axiom to its polar opposite, Margot simply replies "would that be feminism, post-feminism or post-post-feminism?" However, despite the outrageous contradictions inherent in her legacy, her consistent message has always been to "take responsibility for your own destiny".

Hera Dunleavy, as Margot’s daughter Tess, had me clutching my sides throughout the show at her frazzled-mum histrionics. She inadvertently wanders into the hostage situation, sleep deprived and seeking refuge from her noisy children and suburban hell, and rather than help her mother she decides to stay and watch.

New characters enter the scene one at a time, building the conflict to a crescendo. Margot Mason’s is the kind of personality that fills a whole room on it’s own. Physically powerless, she wishes the lot of them would bugger off so she can get on with her book. But they don’t – they each have stuff to get off their chests – criticising Margot herself, and whining about how misunderstood and under-appreciated they are. A master of words, it’s ironic that Margot can barely choke out the words ‘love’ and ‘sorry’.

Throughout the play, as the gun winds up in various emotionally charged hands, Margot flippantly throws out ideas about what fashionable new direction her book should take, oblivious to the irony of the situation – especially with her daughter, the antithesis of what Margot stands for in her domestic prison with husband Bryan – an emasculated bore ‘in hedge funds’.

Just as it’s getting almost stifling, in stumbles Frank, a large black taxi driver, who just wants to use the phone to call a tow truck, but gets drawn into the absurd situation. Played by Brian Manthenga, Frank’s unflinching masculinity is a refreshing contrast to dull-as-dishwater Bryan, and Margot’s stereotypically gay publisher, Theo (Michael Keir-Morrissey).

To director Colin McColl’s credit, the action and blistering dialogue seamlessly complement each other and there’s never a dull moment. In fact the time flew and I was almost disappointed when the play was over (despite a spectacularly apt ending).

With a title like The Female of the Species, I approached this play with trepidation, thinking, this could go one of two ways: self-congratulating ode to modern feminism, or hilarious send-up of it. I needn’t have worried. Though the majority of the opening night audience would have been around to witness the heyday of sixties feminism, this one’s for everyone who’s ever had a mother, a daughter or a publisher – regardless of age, gender, or feminist persuasion.

Margot has her epiphany – her book will introduce an as-yet-unheard-of combination: feminism and humility! Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith brings another rare element to feminism – humour! In the programme, she admits she struggled with the first draft until she realised it should be a comedy – alleluia to that!

A great evening’s entertainment, this play had me laughing harder and faster than anything I’ve seen so far in this year’s comedy festival.

Bloody well go. 


John Smythe May 5th, 2008

Correct - thanks Edith. As the note at the bottom of each review indicates, detailed credit listings can be found (when provided by the producers) by clicking on the show title at the top of the review. PS: Adam gets a strong mention in the NZ Herald Review, which you can link to from the teaser on this site.

Edith Turner May 5th, 2008

Bryan (husband) - the emasculated bore in 'hedge funds' is played by Adam Gardiner F.Y.I.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council