everywoman is built on a strong concept: the implicit gendering of universal human experience. In medieval theatre there is an everyman archetype, a male character who is seen to embody and represent humanity. Note the gender. As well as this historical precedent, everywoman is inspired by – or rather incited by – Philip Roth’s novel Everyman (2006), which modernises this medieval trope. The show interrogates why a man’s experience of life and death is considered ‘gender-neutral’, and argues that a woman’s account of birth, loss and motherhood is just as universal: the audience is, quite literally, told that they must relate. That is not to say that everywoman claims women are the true emblem of universal humanity. Instead, the show exposes and undermines the presumption of the everyman.
The show is frequently funny and Jade Williams’ builds a quick rapport with the audience, immediately creating a likeable and relatable narrator. However, everywoman is just as frequently confronting and uncomfortable to watch. The changes in tone are swift – made seamless by flawless lighting design (Timothy Kelly) – and the piece touches on the darker and most painful moments of pregnancy and parenthood. A bathtub is used as the centre piece of an otherwise minimal set (designer: Charlotte Espiner) which is key to sustaining the energy and intensity of everywoman for its 60-minute runtime. Over the course of the show, Williams interacts with the bath, filling it with buckets of water, lighting candles for the pregnancies that didn’t make it to birth, and balancing precariously around the edge. It gives just enough impetus to action to support the momentum of the monologue whilst avoiding artificiality or distraction. Furthermore, there is something incredibly powerful about the vitality and symbolism of water and fire juxtaposed with the hyperfeminine ‘self-care’ connotations of a candlelit bubble bath.
everywoman is delivered in chapters and the final chapter marks a sharp break with what has preceded. The show’s writer is anonymous and Williams’ character is understood to be that of the playwright, discussing the writing process and the difficulties of balancing a freelance career with a newborn. In its final scene, however, Williams’ character switches from that of the writer to that of the performer, of herself. It is a bold move and the idea of presenting a truly ‘everywoman’ experience by incorporating another voice, specifically the real voice of the woman we have been watching all evening, is clever in principal. For me, it didn’t quite work: I found myself questioning how much of this conclusion to the monologue was scripted, how ‘true’ this new voice really was, and it distracted me from the performance itself. Nonetheless, Williams’ overall performance is outstanding and the show makes for captivating theatre. everywoman is an important challenge to the decades of everyman universality and, crucially, it offers an accessible and entertaining exploration of one of the principle insights of feminism.
everywoman is on at The Bunker until Saturday 22nd February, with matinee and evening performances. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.
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