After seeing Catherine: The Body Politic I left the theatre somewhat confused as to what I has just witnessed. Offering a juxtaposition of scenes which portrayed moments of rupture in the lives of various Catherines (or variations thereof: Cath, Katy, Catriona, Kate, Kathryn and Katia), the piece offered portrayals of women across contexts and ages that was undoubtedly influenced by, and representative of, the women who contributed to the making of the show. While the styles and ranges of depictions of the characters varied greatly, and were navigated with finesse by actor Caroline Lee, if there were any connecting factors between the pieces besides the similarity in names and moments of personal collapse, I was unable to make those connections. As a result, I feel the piece would have holistically made more of an impact with some slight rhythmic adjustments in the form of lighting changes and blocking.
While I found the lighting design visually stunning, particularly at the commencement of the play when natural-coloured light streaks cut through stark red shades and in the inclusion of lights under the stage to represent key narrative features such as a tarmac, I wondered if more abrupt changes between scenes or even slower fades would have contributed to more effective transitions between scenes. Similarly, I felt the situation of, and reliance on, a props corner on stage rather than the dispersion of props and costume pieces to be somewhat unimaginative and this detracted from an otherwise enjoyable overall experience.
Despite these minor qualms, I was genuinely thrilled to see such a strong female presence in the creative and production roles for this show and despite the uncertainty I experienced, one element that was uncompromisingly clear throughout the piece was Lee’s dedication and passion to the work and to each of her performances. Her unique physicality, manifested in gestures and facial movements that ranged from the bold to the minute, were able to tell a world of unique stories and capture moments of rupture from initial unravelling to ultimate outburst. Indeed, Lee’s acting prowess is not to be underestimated – she is a chameleon who in the tilt of her lips and the raise of an eyebrow was able to transition from desperate mother to child-like ballerina and these changes kept the audience on their toes as we wondered where she would take us next. I also found it incredibly refreshing to see an older woman’s body on stage, particularly when Lee is so in tune with what her body is capable of and used it to great effect. Whether crawling in an animalistic manner across the stage, grinning wickedly at the audience, or delivering an exacerbated lecture on art, her physical movements completely embodied the role she was playing at any given time. The lecture scene was especially amusing and relatable to myself and, I assume by the laughter of recognition of others, to multiple audiences members, as Lee grappled with trying to say what was most important while also trying to accommodate all the character’s knowledge in her chosen field – something we all struggle with in academia and in general conversation as was manifested in her deliberately incongruous frantic arm-waving and hunched shoulders. While this scene was dialogue-intense, I would have also enjoyed seeing more scenes centred on non-verbal communication, and though we were offered glimpses of this, even more would have been an interesting addition.
Another commendable aspect was Madeline Flynn’s composition, particularly in the scene wherein a farmer’s wife offers food and water to an enraged looking sky to prevent the fall of heavy rain which would ruin the family’s wheat crop. This scene, which illustrated a desperate – albeit quite – irrationality, or superstition, we all exercise at times was accompanied with a quirky and unexpected soundtrack that was fresh and still evocative of raindrops. Indeed, moments which used to sound to enhance Lee’s performances were chosen carefully and were offered in a subtle manner that served the piece well.
If you have the chance, and especially if you have a passion for women in theatre – and frankly, why wouldn’t you? – you should go and see Catherine: The Body Politic. The play offers as much heart and warmth on a cold winter’s eve as the venue that is hosting it, and will leave you pondering how you yourself deal with moments where things become too much, regardless of context. You will also be treated to seeing Lee perform – something I personally will seek out from now on.