Venue: Etcetera Theatre for the Camden Fringe
In a small room, miraculously sound proofed against the sounds of football shouts from the pub below, the women of Ian McEwan’s novels are brought to life. This is a treatment that is largely reserved for the works of Shakespeare, yet the one hour long show is evidence of why this focus on female characters should be extended to the works of other prolific writers.
McEwan’s Women draws on the plots of seven of the author’s novels: Atonement, On Chesil Beach, Sweet Tooth, The Innocent, The Comfort of Strangers, Solar and The Child in Time. With a cast made up of just Hannah Keighron and Kevin Potton, centre stage is given to the female characters, with the male character often existing solely as a way of lending context to the scenes. This allows the focus of the production to fall solely on the female characters, whose emotionally charged monologues are all the better for this. Accompanied by Potton’s accordion renditions of Cole Porter classics, these speeches range from the humorous, to the eerily creepy, and occasionally to the tremendously sad.
To distinguish between the novels, subtle changes to the styling of the female characters are made. However, these are simple enough to allow the play to run fluently from one novel to the next, and do not detract from the most important aspect of the show, that of her monologues. Of course it is not just the costumes, but the skill of Keighron, who effortlessly transitions from a young girl to a mature woman in a matter of seconds. The fact that the male characters are not differentiated between allows the female characters to again attract greater attention from the audience.
Certain scenes, such as those from On Chesil Beach and Atonement are given context using quotations from the texts, and occasionally these felt slightly unnecessary and slightly awkward as though they had been forced into the performance. Indeed, it is perhaps the scenes that are bereft of these that are most compelling. If the particularly sinister dramatisation of The Comfort of Strangers had been explained in advance, the scene would have lost all of its emotional effect.
As the play drew on such a prolific author, who offers a wide range of diverse and interesting plots and characters from which to draw inspiration, it is easy to see the temptation to try to fit in as many novels as possible. However, with only one hour in which to perform, it seems it would have been better had the show spent longer on certain novels at the expense of others in order to elicit a deeper connection with the novel and allow for a greater exploration of the emotions of the characters.
Despite the occasionally rushed scenes, the performances are compelling, and with such simple set and costume design, the performances of both actors are all the more believable and engaging.