Lovborg’s Women is theatre about theatre. This is always fun to do and fun to watch, but you need to have your target market very carefully sussed out for it to work well.
The actors were great. A teeny audience of about 15 in the ±200-seater Glennie Hall, and they gave us as much as they’d have given a full house. They were funny, and did their best to keep us with them through a difficult and complex work.
The work is meta-theatrical. You need to have a thorough understanding of theatre history and current trends. Or you may get lost. We are treated to brief lessons in naturalism, realism, and physical theatre, but it all moves at such a pace that if you miss a moment you’ll miss out on the subsequent spoofs. Luckily, I had 5 years of training in theatre theory (half of it a vague student memory), to assist in understanding what was happening before me.
The piece requires the audience to give back to the actors, with laughter, suspense, or shared relief. There were two or three of us that chuckled at the university theatre in-jokes, about “Jay Pather” and “Rhodes”, and the verbosely dramatic descriptions about “finding the truth” and “chang[ing] the environment” which were quite amusing. But I fear that the rest of the handful of audience was fairly oblivious to theatre general knowledge (which I only assume because some of them were under 12 years old and the others gave little reaction), resulting in a rather tough job for the actors.
Throughout the 70 minute performance, the performers shifted style and character effortlessly, and I must congratulate them for investing so convincingly in the work. That is what held my attention most. The two men, who served as narrators to the work as well as partaking in each scene, were comically great and always interesting. The two women played out hilarious scenes, especially in “Mellow Pears” which caused palpable tension throughout the venue. The performers are physically adept and I enjoyed how a subtle eyebrow raise or shoulder shift told much more than what they were vocally saying.
The overall rhythm of the script became predictable with the naturalistic scenes played out first, and then the “reconsidered” scene presented afterwards. The spoofs of the well-known contemporary companies, DV8 and Third World Bun Fight, were well done and the obvious humour within them is what kept the audience going, but I’m not sure I was totally convinced about why it was all happening.
The work serves as a fun display of theatre through the disciplines and ages, (and I did learn about a writer I previously knew little about), but I can’t help feeling for a festival audience who may not be educated in theatre information and jargon. They’ll be entertained by the performers, who are really good, but they may be slightly bewildered by the overall work which is challenging enough to a person with training and an understanding of theatre procedure.
The bottom line is I liked it a lot, and if you know and love theatre, you’ll probably like it too. — Sarah Roberson