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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Second Sex
Etcetera Theatre
1st August 2017

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for The Second Sex

Photography provided by Dos Mujeres Theatre Company

Head of femme fatale rehab Gloria (Gabriela Cerda) is supervising the recovery of five women: Dorothy (Lauren Esin Coomber), Veronica (Mireia Juanals Garcia), Helena (Hannah Margetson), Linda (Anais Reymond) and Penny (Rebecca Wilson).The unfortunate ladies have come down with a bad case of feminism and Gloria is very doing her best to help them shake it off, retraining them how to not have an opinion and reminding them to take personal grooming seriously. Considering the premise, the fact that Dos Mujeres is an all-female company and the unsubtle reference to Simone de Beauvoir in the show's title, it's not hard to spot the heavy sarcasm in The Second Sex. The company are trying to make a marked point about women's rights, addressing an issue that is obviously close to their hearts.

We are provided with a structure of observing various lessons in the rehab centre, which should allow for variety, but nonetheless leaves the action feeling disjointed. Given the nature of the piece and the lack of playwright credited, this fragmented style can probably be explained due to the play being devised. The Second Sex would benefit from just one writer taking charge and reworking the narrative to allow it to flow better. The ideas are solid, but the writing is very rough with this play very much giving the impression of an early draft rather than a polished final version. Whilst the rigid, clockwork movement and shouting seem to serve very little purpose in their current state, they could be easily adapted to show the progression in the patients' "recovery".

The actresses all deliver good performances, with Cerda's deranged anti-feminist head of rehab a great villain and the glassy stares of the patients suitably compliant. Coomber and Margetson in particular have some stand out moments, demonstrating some of the talents that rehabilitated feminists should demonstrate. Coomber's portrayal of a woman pleasuring her husband whilst her character avoids all personal satisfaction has great physical humour and perfect comedic timing. Margetson's obedient Stepford wife awaiting her husband's return from work is similarly ridiculously overblown and rewarded with loud peals of laughter.

The difficulty with political plays is striking the right balance between education and entertainment. You want to garner approval from your existing supporters and hopefully convert some new ones too. In the notes to the show, director Carlota Arencibia makes a deliberately antagonistic comment that if you don't connect with her work, the likely reason is that "the word equality doesn't exist in your dictionary." I would caution against this approach: seeking to assign blame in advance is not the best way to get anyone new on side and with the company's demonstrable passion for promoting feminism, this does them no favours when it comes to expanding their reach. The production itself is provocative but not offensive, however it just needs tying together with a less abrupt conclusion that leaves us with a stronger parting message.

Dos Mujeres clearly have a passion for their craft and for their principles, which is laudable - they just need to fine-tune what they are trying to say. The Second Sex is loud, proud and imaginative and with plenty of potential for a future run.

The Second Sex opened on 31st July and runs until 2nd August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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