Sydney Fringe: The Women

Roanne Flanagan
21st Sep 2016

One of the best things about the Sydney Fringe Festival is the opportunity to spoil yourself by going to see one of the feast of independent theatre productions on offer. The Depot Theatre, Marrickville has a diverse program of plays running throughout Fringe. The Women, presented by Edgewise Productions last week, is the fourth play in their series.

Featuring an all female ensemble cast of seventeen, Clare Boothe Luce, an American author and congresswoman, penned the play The Women in the 1930’s. It was meant as indictment on the wealthy, indolent socialite wives of inter-world war New York but this is no drama heavy social critique. What Booth Luce delivered was a hugely witty satire, a comedy of manners that any actor would love to get their comic chops into.

The actors in this particular production embrace the play’s snappy and often hilarious dialogue with varying levels of success. Catherine Davies, as Mary Haines, the sweet but socially naïve protagonist, gives an accomplished and believable performance as the New York socialite who discovers her husband is not quite as wonderful as she thought. Davies tackles the character with an understated naturalness that gives her punch lines, when they come, all the more punch. 

Likewise Christie New (Mrs Sylvia Fowler) and Sandy Sharma (Mrs Edith Potter) make the most of their bitchy and malevolent characters with excellent timing coupled with great physical comedy. Christie New, in a gym scene reminiscent of a Marx Brother’s classic, had everyone in hysterics while Sandy Sharma rocked a baby bump like if was nobody’s business! 

While they worked hard to stay true to the brisk paced comedy, they were often hampered by some of their less experienced cast members. Sometimes it was difficult to hear the Boothe Luce’s dialogue the way it was meant to be heard, in part due to some fairly dodgy American accents amongst the ensemble. While this didn’t spoil the overall experience, it was distracting at times.

This was certainly not an issue for Kate Rutherford who gave a consistently memorable performance as the Countess De Lage. She brought a huge amount of energy to a character that really benefited from being overplayed. She looked thoroughly at home in the role and the audience responded positively to her obvious enjoyment.

There were other stand out performances including Alyssa Stevenson as the lower class femme fatale, Lauren Lloyd Williams as Mrs Morehead (Mary Haines’ mother) and Pheobe Clarke as saccharine sweet “Little Mary”. 

Clare Booth Luce drew her inspiration for “The Women” from swank 1930’s nightclub powder room gossip and the rich women she depicts are part of an elite minority. In the context of the Great Depression, her characters seem even more appalling and that is what contributes most to the success of the play. With her keen eye and Oscar Wilde like wit, you have to wonder what Booth Luce would make, were she still alive, of the “Housewives of New Jersey”!

The Women was performed at Depot Theatre as part of the 2016 Sydney Fringe Festival. The next part of the theatre's Sydney Fringe program is a new production of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, starting Wednesday September 21st.