No Place for a Woman, Theatre503

By guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

The commandant is holding a party for his wife. She desires champagne, but what she gets instead is a ballet dancer from the nearby concentration camp. A breath-taking narrative of uncontrollable desire, No Place For A Woman shows how the extraordinary power of dance can be a catalyst for making life-altering decisions. Put this alongside a script that pulls right at the heartstrings and you get a seventy-five minute story that is compelling to watch. 

Cellist Elliot Rennie provides an underscore that is not only harrowing to listen to, but visceral in the way that it paints mental pictures of horror and distress. Theatre 503 seems like a perfect space to host this production, and Camilla Clarke’s design is simple, yet well thought-out. The minimal décor shows how barren both women’s lives are, and the set’s stripped back element amplifies the piece’s raw quality. 

Writer Cordelia O’Neill has created a script that is a mixture of quick-fire exchanges, tender monologues and sections of storytelling. It’s impressive that in such a bleak text moments of humour can also be realised. The whole play is essentially a dance – a duet between two women fighting a battle for one man. Lucy Cullingford’s movement direction falls right into place, and the seemingly effortless choreography allows these two actors to shine. And shine they do; Ruth Gemmell plays Annie, a wife who is losing her husband to the charms of inmate Isabella, played by Emma Paetz. Both give award-deserving performances; it is horrible, yet compelling to watch a character enter a psychotic breakdown in front of our very eyes, and Gemmell does it with absolute truth.

This multi-layered, complex narrative allows the audience to go on a journey with two empowered women. You could easily align yourself to either of them at any point during the play, depending on where your ethics lie. Dramaturgically, everything seems correct and this is probably one of the best pieces of theatre that will be produced in 2017. Not only that, but you can see how this script could easily be tweaked for the big screen. It is a story that grips you from the first scene, and keeps you right until the end.

No Place for a Woman runs through 27 May.

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