The Female of the Species, Joanna Murray-Smith’s biting comedy, is a witty satire, often brushing up against pure farce, that takes a microscope to ideals of feminism and the often conflicting ideological developments throughout the decades. Set against the backdrop of a hostage situation turned enforced family therapy session, Murray-Smith’s work throws some dysfunctional people into a room, adds a loaded weapon and a pair of handcuffs, and locks the door. What unfolds is brash, shocking, side-splittingly funny, and just a little bit heartfelt.

IMG_4747The Female of the Species was chosen as the inaugural outing for Brisbane’s brand new theatre company Ad Astra, and is a fantastic showcase piece, both for what the company can do, and the converted theatre space in Fortitude Valley. The reconfigured theatre sits 60 – 70 people, and is perfect to showcase intimate, in-your-face, boundary pushing, theatrical experiences.

Direction by Roslyn Johnson made the most of the small space, dressing the set as a comfy, expensive feeling, home office. It allowed the cast to spread out and cleverly avoided the cluttered, too-crowded feeling that could have easily prevailed. Johnson worked well with the cast, mastering the complex dialogue style that Murray-Smith is known for, and giving the show the right amount of energy to keep it moving forward.

There were some moments where the dialogue felt as though it came unstuck, I suspect more due to rhythm and delivery slipping off kilter, than anyone searching for lines, but these were all masterfully recovered. Additionally there were not too many moments of crowding in the centre of the stage, no mean feat considering one of the characters spends almost all of the show handcuffed to a desk, unable to move.

As Margot Mason, the Germaine Greer allegory (the play is loosely based on a real life event that Greer went through) Fiona Kennedy is superb. Wonderfully acidic and self indulgent, Kennedy nails the biting humour, and metes out just enough softness to keep the character accessible. Full credit must also be given for the athleticism it must take to perform the entire show chained to a desk in the middle of the stage. This could easily have become boring, but in what is clearly a strong working relationship between Kennedy and Johnson, we see every inch of the available space used, and in every single way imaginable.

Mikayla Hosking features as Molly Rivers, deranged ex student with a gun and a vendetta. Hosking has a lovely warmth about her performance, always managing to be quite endearing and sympathetic, even reasonable, as events of the play unfold and she slowly wins more and more people to her cause to end the life of Margot Mason. Her work with Jacqueline Kerr as Tess Thornton, Mason’s unloved daughter who has ‘betrayed her potential’, is especially heartfelt.

IMG_4743Kerr’s performance is wonderfully bombastic, as she bounces between exhaustion, elation, joy, sorrow, confusion, and attraction, before starting all over again. It is dizzying to watch, and a delight to behold. Her entrance in Act One is genius and Kerr has the audience in stitches for almost the entire monologue.

Rounding out the cast are; Ryan Thomas as Bryan Thornton, Tanaka Utete as Frank the cab driver, and Richard Jon Murphy as Theo Reynolds. Each of the men offer another level of discussion on feminism and the male place within it, creating wonderful conflicts and contradictions that slowly wend themselves towards a tense, but agreed upon equilibrium. Each offers their considerable acting talent to the production, elevating the tension and the histrionics as each makes their entrance. Of particular note is Utete, whose command of the space and huge energy give clear sign that he is a talent to watch.

The Female of the Species is the kind of deeply piercing satirical work that comes along too rarely. It is shocking and touching and all a little bit silly, in equal measure. It fits into the new space that Ad Astra call home like a hand into a glove. Get along and support a brand new company, and enjoy a great night at the theatre. The season runs until 23rd of June 2018. Get your tickets at www.adastracreativity.com.

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