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BWW Reviews: THE SPINSTER - Challenging and Emotive Theatre at Alexander Upstairs


Somewhere between the traditional feminine archetypes of maiden, mother and crone, there lurk other types of women. In THE SPINSTER, Kyla Davis presents one of these othered figures, challenging the audience's generalised perceptions of old maids and loose women through the story of a person who has chosen to shun typical interpretations of womanhood in the way she lives her life.

Presented as a conversation with an unexpected visitor, THE SPINSTER tells the tale of a woman who has lived what she describes as a big life, rather than a small life in a big world. As she unpacks the evidence of her experiences, her anecdotes prompt laughter, pity and introspection. The fine line between entrapment and liberation is what lies at the heart of the spinster's account of her life and, by the end of her deliberation, the answers are not as obvious as they seem at first.

THE SPINSTER plays with numerous influences and ideas. The presence of Franca Rame's feminist monologues is felt in the piece's structure and ideology; the eight archetypical figures that are derived from Carl Jung's Great Mother archetype are woven into the Spinster's characterisation; and the character, both in its conception and in its physical depiction, embraces the tradition of Jacques Lecoq's buffoon. Davis has harnessed these multiple influences to explore the perception of women in contemporary society and while her overall thesis is clear, the piece could push further in the exploration of its themes and revelations in both their emotional impact and their potential for social activism.

In her delivery of the piece, Kyla Davis is completely engaging. Physically deft, her characterisation of the spinster uses the body as a primary vehicle for storytelling, captivating the audience's attention with inventive postures, provocative eyes and heightened gestures. Indeed the two most memorable set pieces of the piece, one in which Davis deconstructs a relationship using a punching bag and another in which she blazes through a series of so-called womanly activities while on the phone with a friend, rely almost exclusively on her dexterity and versatility as a physical comedian. That is not to say that Davis's rich vocal work goes unnoticed. Her sense of timing is skilled and she works well not only with her invisible visitor, but also with the audience in this most intimate of theatrical spaces.

The direction, by James Cairns, works more for the performer than it does for the piece. While Davis is used and extended in every possible manner, which is very much the point of a play like THE SPINSTER, sharper modulations between the various sections of the monologue would have lent the piece more a complex rhythmical structure, essential to deepen the audience's engagement with the character and the revelations her stories convey as the narrative unfolds.

Eight months after its first performances in August last year, THE SPINSTER feels like a play that has something valuable to say, but one that needs further development and sharper focus. At present, it is a pleasant diversion that offers some food for thought. At its best, THE SPINSTER could be an hysterical and devastating piece that changes one's thoughts for good.

THE SPINSTER runs at Alexander Upstairs on the corner of Strand and Loop Streets in Cape Town from Mondays to Wednesdays until 17 April at 19:00. Tickets cost R80. Further information and bookings can be made at the Alexander Bar and Café website.

Photo credit: Germaine de Larch

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