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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Corn Exchange - Berkoff's Women

22nd March 2003.

This was the NWN review.

The many faces of women

Berkoff's Women, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Saturday, March 22

Steven Berkoff's writing is a full frontal assault. It does not gently seduce: it assails. Uncompromising, sexual, in your face, often almost shockingly ugly, its directness can physically jar. Does he love or hate women? Does he respect or fear them? Such intense writing reflects a complicated mix.

In a one-woman show made up of excerpts from 11 of his plays, Linda Marlowe celebrated the diversity between women, and within every individual woman, in a performance of commitment, energy, range and technical ability. She veered from splenetic anger to yielding gentleness, from self-confident dominance to dependent diffidence, from shared love to shared hate: a celebration of the variety that makes us female.

She tore into the first extract, from Decadence, with all the sensuality that was to characterise her performance. "Demure on the outside; such a whore within," she purred. As Clytemnestra, she was visceral in her portrayal of her husband Agamemnon and his young mistress making love; uncompromising in her revenge for his killing of their child. She touched the heart as a vulnerable subservient woman unable to fulfil her half of the deal called middle-class marriage, and as the Sphinx splendid in her onslaught against men: "You need killing off before you kill off the world."

You couldn't avoid sex here: good, bad and ugly, passionate, washed-up or mechanical. Room service took on a whole new meaning; in a Poplar cinema unintended incest cropped up; and it took great panache to make a story about a serial killer funny. But Linda Marlowe did. An urban view of hunting, to Vera Lynn's accompaniment, was a hilarious cliché. And the final excerpt, From My Point of View, showed a lonely, ageing woman, desperate for a relationship, her view of herself at odds with the public view of what she has become: "I want a prison. Who wants liberation?"

This was a production that would have benefited from a more intimate space. The yawning physical gap between the stage and the front row looked as if it might be unbridgeable until Linda Marlowe's compelling performance drew audience and actress closer. A five-star night.