“Playhouse creatures they called you, like you was animals.”
Yesterday marked 100 years since women won the right to vote, and although not as big of a step as that, April De Angelis’ Playhouse Creatures focuses on another significant time for women in history – the first time women were allowed to act on stage.
Set in 1663, a former bear pit, now Playhouse stage, is set dark and eerie, only lit with candles and scattered with stage props and costumes.
The play explores the relationships of four aspiring actresses, as they negotiate their new-found fame, and strive for equality in the Playhouse.
The main roles are lead by the popular Polly Lister as Mrs. Betterton, who puts on a tremendous performance as the Playhouse manager’s wife, in fear that her longtime role on stage will be snatched by younger actresses.
Mrs. Betterton’s fears are confirmed when manipulative, but naive, 16-year-old Nell (Hannah Edwards), joins the actresses, causing her to be removed from the Playhouse.
The nature of the story becomes darker when Mrs. Farley (Rebecca Brewer) falls pregnant, and we see just how cruel men’s rules were towards women in the Playhouse.
Then there is Doll, the devoted old lady to the Playhouse, who’s tiny fragile appearance is engulfed by a feisty cockney attitude and loud-mouth, played by Anna Kirke.
These women put on a wonderful performance of strength and resilience to the stigma surrounding women in theatre.
The intimate cast demonstrate passion and fearlessness, despite being controlled by men and hurled abuse at by drunk theatre-goers. They bite back with their sharp use of tongue-in- cheek humour, which had the audience in fits of laughter.
Playhouse Creatures is at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme from 2-24 February 2018. Visit website for details.