Dóttir, Courtyard Theatre – Review

While the proportion of female to male characters in Shakespeare’s plays arguably reflects the numbers written by his peers, most of the Bard’s women are singularly distinctive, often the most memorable characters of their respective plays. Previously, there hasn’t been a play that has adopted the method used in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls to bring notable women of different eras in one space, and compare and contrast their respective experiences. However, Riot Act Theatre has taken up the challenge.

Written and directed by Whit Hertford, Dóttir (the Icelandic word for ‘daughter’) takes the bull by the horns and with unflinching scrutiny, deconstructs a cross section of the Bard’s female roles. Dóttir, however, is anything but a passive, emotionless experience, as the audience is initially shouted at and marched into the theatre space by the prison guard/usher. Once inside, the audience is face with the presence of several prostrate ‘prisoners’, the female characters in question.

Stirred from their slumber by the influx of people, the prisoners take turns to address the audience, ‘confess’ what their transgression was, and what ‘level’ they belong. Asides from the overtures to a penitentiary setting, the language and rituals observed by the characters reminded me of Dante Aligiheri’s Inferno, where the underworld’s inhabitants are delegated to a specific region of Hell, depending on their behaviour in their previous life.

Of the female roles chosen for this play, most are instantly recognisable while one or two can be classed from the Bard’s apocryphal wrtings. What’s perhaps more surprising is the omission of some of the well-known female roles such as Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra (though in the case of Lady D, some explanation is later given). Instead, we have on stage Katherine ‘the Curst’ (Rachael Black), Desdemona (Cheska Hill-Wood), Lavinia (Phoebe Stapleton), Ophelia (Haeleigh Royall Hertford), Cordelia (Aimee Cassettari), Jessica (Rea Mole) and recent addition the Jailor’s Daughter (Tanya Reynolds – the Dóttir in question).

The prologue of the play is initially quite intense, but as we get to the meat of the play where we really get to know the ladies in question, the play offers food for thought regarding Shakespeare’s creations – some of which makes for uncomfortable speculation.

As the characters relate their individual stories, what becomes apparent is their so-called transgressions aren’t ‘sins’ of any sort, but personal aggrievements that men have felt about them – made by their fathers or significant others. Initially jeered by her peers for refusing to accept blame for her behaviour, the stance of the vehement Jailor’s Daughter (who has her own mini-existential crisis for not having a ‘name’), proves infectious as each person re-evaluates who they are, what they have done and shake off the yoke of guilt from external judgement.

The notion that all these women might have turned out differently if they had their mothers or other significant female relationship in their lives poses an interesting question in terms of their development and every so often, comments made in jest do contain more than a grain of truth.

The allusions in the play to ‘God’ and Shakespeare in interchangeable language stresses the degree these female characters are influenced by their ‘Creator’ – the person ultimately responsible for their present captivity. However, as each of the women rejects the way they’ve been written, their iconoclasm spurs not their damnation, but their emancipation. Not only showing signs of individuality, but also standing as proud, strong women for all to see – liberated in mind and body.

Unlike the personae of Luigi Pirandello’s play, these women aren’t ‘Six Characters In Search Of An Author‘. These women have now chosen to write the script for themselves.

(c) Michael Davis 2016

Dóttir runs at the Courtyard Theatre until 31st January 2016.


Note: This review was originally published on femalearts backup site https://femalearts.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/dottir-courtyard-theatre-rev...

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