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Reviewed by:
  • Recording Women: A Documentation of Six Theatre Productions, and: Performing Women: Stand-ups, Strumpets and Itinerants, and: Staging Femininities: Performance and Performativity
  • Gwendolyn Alker (bio)
Recording Women: A Documentation of Six Theatre Productions. By Geraldine Cousin. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000; 164 pp.; illustrations. $37.95 cloth.
Performing Women: Stand-Ups, Strumpets and Itinerants. Introduced, interviewed, and edited by Alison Oddey. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999; 299 pp.; illustrations. $39.95 cloth.
Staging Femininities: Performance and Performativity. By Geraldine Harris. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1999; 200 pp. $59.95 cloth, $19.95 paper.

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Gender and performance intersect in a discipline that was developed and continues to re-create itself within the shifting coalition of numerous fields of inquiry, including feminist theory, performance theory, theatre history, and postmodern theory. Yet one foundational trope, since the rallying mantra of uncovering "her-stories" in the 1970s, has been the recovery and documentation of work conceived, conceptualized, written, and embodied by women performers.1 In three recent books, Recording Women, by Geraldine Cousin (2000); Performing Women , edited, introduced, and compiled by Alison Oddey (1999); and Staging Femininities by Geraldine Harris (1999), the impetus toward documentation is once again invoked and centralized. The strength of these contributions to the field of gender and performance lies primarily in their recording, close to the moment of en-action, a significant body of work created by British actresses, stand-ups, and performance artists. As texts concerned with documentation, it is inevitable that they should emphasize practice rather than theory. Perhaps it can only be expected that the imbalance of methodological frames stands in the way of their potential as bold theoretical contributions to British feminist performance.

Of the three, Cousin's Recording Women: A Documentation of Six Theatre Productions , is the most traditionally situated within theatre history and documentation. Framed as an academic bearing "witness" (3) to six productions by three notable companies, the author covers Scarlet Theatre, Foursight Theatre, and the Sphinx Theatre Company (formerly known as the Women's Theatre Group). Cousin, a Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Warwick, is most concerned by the "process of erasure" faced by small women's companies working within the ephemeral medium of performance (1). Cousin makes her analytical presence scarce, speaking directly to the reader in the introduction and compact, six-page conclusion. This conclusion, fundamentally an overplayed riff on the theme of duality found in each of the different productions, stops short of making any bold inroads into analysis of the state of feminist theatre groups in Britain at the end of the 20th century. In between the introduction and conclusion is a wealth of descriptive and visual imagery.

Two productions from each of three important theatre companies are described in fascinating detail and are accompanied by a wealth of black and white images. Scarlet Theatre's 1995 production of The Sisters, an intelligent deconstruction of Chekhov's masterpiece, relegates the male figures in the original play to ghosts in the minds of the actresses and the audience. This is followed by Paper Walls (1994-1996), a powerful piece that restricts and then includes audience access to the private spaces of domestic abuse. Foursight Theatre's production, Boadicea: The Red-Bellied Queen (1995), brings the historical figure of the Celtic woman warrior to the stage, emphasizing the effects of rape amidst a character trilogy of a mother and her two daughters. Their second production, Slap (1996), compellingly passes through the identities of three generations of Northern Irish women, culminating with "a 'good Catholic and a pregnant lesbian' [...,] a reincarnation [End Page 176] therefore of the Virgin Mary!" (89). Finally, from one of the most enduring and renowned feminist theatre collectives, Sphinx Theatre Company, Cousin recounts the group's adaptation of Jean Rhys's novel Voyage in the Dark (1996), and Beatrix Campbell's novel Goliath (1997). The latter, a stunning one-woman show performed by Nichola McAuliffe, provides England with a fiction-based parallel to the documentary theatre of Anna Deveare Smith. Each chapter includes a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4715
Print ISSN
1054-2043
Pages
pp. 176-179
Launched on MUSE
2002-08-01
Open Access
No
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