We’ve all had those nights, where we stumble into the toilet at 3am and the toilet attendant is the best person you have ever seen as he douses you in cheap perfume and gives you 100 toilet tissues for a few quid, Virago by Out Of Order uses this common scenario to say everything that theatre should be saying, it stands up for the few, the unheard voices and shines a light on our society. However sometimes the light felt a little like a police search light.
The play opens with Antonia Draper as Eva, the lowly toilet attendant, Eastern European one would be led to believe, and ex-Writer in her homeland now a toilet attendant to support her child back home and how no one sees her so she can observe, the concept it really nice, however I’m not sure why this was dropped half way through the piece, I would much have preferred to see her be the fly on the wall for the whole piece.
Soon a flood of women enter, and I mean a flood, how they managed to fit 8 on the Etcetera stage and not make it feel crowded is a feat in itself. The play continues as we see a variety of seemingly unrelated tales and stories of the women in what feels like a whole night in the toilet. The play itself is rather confusing, I don’t really know what was the purpose of the moments of what can only be described as insanity, particularly the coronation sequence, but for some reason I didn’t mind them. It was a play of fun and independence but this is where I feel it falters, the main crux of the piece is quite clearly to provide a voice for the women in our society who are ignored and repressed which I for one thank these 8 women for, but the issues where rather forcefully thrown at us rather than weaving them into the story. The use of poetry was a nice touch, however the poetry itself was crude, I feel the same effect could easily have been achieved if they had taken more time to create a more linear storyline with these issues woven in, the way to make and audience pay attention to the issues in their own society is to make them not even realise it.
The acting on the whole was very good, all of the characters has very distinct characters and obstacles that they have faced as women and they never felt stereotypical which was very refreshing in a piece like Virago. Some special mention should go to Antonia Draper for her refreshingly natural portrayal of the hard working ex-pat, Sylvia played by Harriet Diggory who brought a lovely honesty to her character who we all have a friend like and brought the hidden pain and embarrassment the labelled ‘slut’ receives elegantly. My highlight was Olivia Griffiths who played Frankie, she was so committed to her part and my eye was constantly drawn to her understated performance, I think every audience members heart broke she she apologised for ‘being here’. Thought credit must be given to all the actors as it was a strong ensemble piece.
Virago is a bold play, it has a lot to say and I think the women of Out Of Order really gave it a good crack of the whip and didn’t leave any hiding space which again I wish we saw more of on stage, however I think in an hour slot the play feels very confused as to what it wants to be and we aren’t really given enough time with each character to fully understand their journey. With a bit of tweaking and a less invasive approach to the issues at hand the show could be a very strong piece of feminist theatre.