The Saturday Matinee Company is a welcome addition to the Oxford theatre scene, creating no-frills lunchtime drama, accessible to everyone – entry is free of charge, audience members pay what they can afford. Founded less than a year ago, it has already produced two successful shows (Collider and Connie’s Colander), and there is a fourth in the pipeline. Each deals with an issue of current concern.
Distractingly Female was inspired by the reaction to Professor Tim Hunt’s words on women in the laboratory workplace. It tells the tale of twins, Jen (Amy Enticknap) and Jake (James Card), whose parents attempt to bring them up as complete equals - but how differently they are treated by the world outside the home. At breakneck speed, it gives a whistle-stop tour through their lifetime of gender discriminatory experiences, culminating in the revelation of a particularly disturbing incident.
We had an extra surprise bonus after the performance: a talk and discussion led by Dr Alice Prochaska, Principal of Somerville College. About half the audience stayed to participate in this intelligent and wide-ranging discussion, which included contributions from a wide range of perspectives, from a local chef to a retired City lawyer. This was very engaging and I was sad when it was brought to a close after an hour.
Sadly, I have to say that although the play provided a wonderful springboard for discussion, I was disappointed in it as drama. Admittedly, I had very high expectations after their last play. Connie’s Colander was a truly memorable, beautifully crafted, tightly written, intensely poignant and moving exploration of the effect of dementia on a mother and her daughter. By comparison, this was clumsily constructed and poorly written. There were a couple of levels of framing device which weren’t at all necessary – reading out newspaper articles which were already scattered around the auditorium, and including the irrelevant incident of the parents’ wedding anniversary – which simply added to the fragmentary nature of the play. There were several scenes which lacked credibility and where the dialogue was utterly implausible, as if the author was writing outside her experience. The play moved far too fast through far too many scenes, in an apparent attempt to cram in as many examples of gender discrimination or sexual harassment as possible, without exploring any of them in sufficient depth. The other two actors had to play such a number of different characters in such quick succession, each for such a short time, that few of them were very adequately developed or convincing. It was notable that the main instance of real dramatic tension was the one slow wordless scene (in the train). It is a shame because there are the makings of a good play here, but it is in need of a good editor to excise the unnecessary material , slow the pace and develop more subtlety and subtext in the dialogue to make the interactions more believable.
As one of the audience commented, this piece would provide an excellent and superior alternative to a straightforward workshop on gender issues for schools, colleges and workplaces, and we all hoped the company might be able to use it in this way.
I am already looking forward to the company’s next production Perfect which will deal with the nature of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and hope that it will be of a similar quality to Connie’s Colander (which you can catch again at Chipping Norton Theatre on Wednesday 3 February 2016).