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BWW REVIEW: THE VILLAGE BIKE Is A Thought Provoking Look At How Society Views And Controls Women

Saturday 10th June 2017, 8:15pm, Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo

Penelope Skinner's Award winning play THE VILLAGE BIKE challenges the notions of a woman's place in society and how she should behave. Under Rachel Chant's direction, the Old Fitz Theatre audience is asked to consider the lives of some seemingly normal people once we look behind closed doors and ask the unspoken questions.

THE VILLAGE BIKE is initially a second hand bicycle that young school teacher Becky (Gabrielle Scawthorn) wishes to purchase to maintain her fitness and explore her new environs during the summer holidays but her overbearing husband John (Benedict Wall) worries that it isn't safe for his pregnant wife. This is just one of the challenges Becky is facing, between a country cottage with 'sweaty' and constantly creaking pipes, a husband that is more enthralled by the idea of parenthood than she is, an overly helpful neighbour that continuously drops around unannounced, and the niggling concern that she is loosing who she is, questioning her identity, Becky is also incredibly horny but John is more concerned with baby books, environmental issues and organic produce to notice or care. Becky ends up having to look after everything herself from organising the meak plumber, widower Mike (Jamie Oxenbould), purchasing the bicycle from the captivatingly handsome and eccentric Oliver (Rupert Reid) whilst John is away in Amsterdam working on a cosmetics commercial and tending to her own needs any way she can.

Benedict Wall as John and Gabrielle Scawthorn as Becky (Photo: Andrew Vasquez)

Whilst the work initially feels like it will be about Becky taking control of her life, Skinner exposes the control the men in Becky's life have over her along with the way society wants to pigeon hole women into ideas of what they should be and labelling those that don't fit the mould. John wants to dictate where she shops, what she eats and even whether she purchases the bicycle, all in the guise of being concerned for the baby and the environment. Oliver, the sexually adventurous and flirtatious neighbour who Becky tries to have a no-strings, no-emotion relationship with wants to dominate her both sexually and in setting his rules for their arrangement, regardless of her feelings. Both men state that people don't have to do things unless they want to and control the use of their own bodies whilst Becky knows that its different for women, having satisfied John in the past when she wasn't in the mood and realising that getting paid for sex when there are no other options for income does not equate to wanting it.

Benedict Wall as John and Gabrielle Scawthorn as Becky (Photo: Andrew Vasquez)

Production designers anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt have created a wonderfully detailed set in the intimate space of the Old Fitz theatre. A two storey cottage, in the midst of renovations is squeezed in along with separate spaces to represent Oliver's living room and Mike's bedroom window. Stone walls with hints of moss seen through the windows helps ground the work in country England whilst the small space of John and Becky's cottage is familiar to anyone who has visited country village homes in the United Kingdom. Costuming has been kept simple with subtle differences between the women's styling to allude to their different personalities, from the Jenny's image of a perfect country wife to Becky's laid back casualness and Alice's high flying casual sophistication. Nate Edmondson's sound design gives the impression of a light sitcom, which the work does feel like on the surface, and includes a wonderful composition for Becky's bike ride to freedom. Chant has kept the work in Skinner's original English countryside and accent and dialect coach Linda Nicholls-Gidley has done a wonderful job in preparing the cast to deliver consistent accents throughout.

Gabrielle Scawthorn as Becky (Photo: Andrew Vasquez)

Gabrielle Scawthorn is wonderful as Becky and gains sympathy quickly, particularly from women who have had self-centred, oblivious men in their lives. Scawthorn presents Becky with a relatable realism, ensuring that she is seen as a strong woman with grown up desires and a brain, not the simpering clucky young puritanical mothers that women are so often expected to be. Her facial expressions are priceless, particularly when confronted with the overbearing neighbour Jenny who continues to gush over John and drop around unannounced with more and more things for the still nowhere near being born baby. She captures Becky's confusion as she grapples with stepping out of society's expectations as she eventually gives in to Oliver's charms whilst still showing that she has niggling doubts about his character and her heartbreak at discovering that she is not in control is palpable even though she brings it upon her self.

As the new aged husband John, Benedict Wall's expression of the clueless husband is reminiscent of PC Joe Penhale from TV's Doc Martin in his desire to be liked by everyone whilst being completely oblivious to the facts staring him in the face. Wall ensures that John's controlling is subtle, presented under the guise of care whilst really seeking a superiority over Becky, particularly with the ludicrous notion that he must inspect the bicycle before she buys it, in the same way that men think that women can't buy cars.

Gabrielle Scawthorn as Becky and Sophie Gregg as Jenny (Photo: Andrew Vasquez)

Sophie Gregg allows the overbearing neighbour Jenny to develop over the course of the 'summer'. Initially Jenny represents the woman society wants mothers to be, helpful, supportive and agreeable to their husbands wishes, even if that does mean he's away overseas for great stretches of time. Gregg gradually allows the cracks in Jenny's life to show with a wonderful timing and delivery of subtle lines that expose the stress of raising children without support and being away from adult interaction.

Rupert Reid as Oliver (Photo: Andrew Vasquez)

Rupert Reid ensures that Oliver is initially seen as charming and flirtatious whilst giving glimpses into his volatile nature, eventually evolving to expose his true nature of the desire to control and maintain his own 'happy' world where he gets what he wants. Chant's casting of Reid, combined with Reid's expression, ensures that Oliver is seen as everything that John is not, the stereotype of the tall dark and handsome man that captures the attention of women wanting to bed him. He ensures that, by the end of the work, Oliver is seen as the same as many other men that enter into affairs, wanting their fantasies fulfilled while refusing to give up their 'happy' little lives.

Rupert Reid as Oliver and Gabrielle Scawthorn as Becky (Photo: Andrew Vasquez)

As Oliver's wife Alice, Kate Bookallil expresses the assured confidence of a woman that knows her husband's true nature, but also knows that he will always come back to her. She however places the blame on Becky, true to society's habit of protecting their own and labelling the outsider or the unknown as the problem.

Finally, as the meek plumber, Jamie Oxenbould gives Mike a pitiful loneliness as he misconstrues Becky's confusing interactions as advances. In contrast to Oliver who seeks to use and discard Becky, Oxenbould ensures that Mike has a bewildered gratefulness when Becky turns his attentions on him.

Sophie Gregg as Jenny, Benedict Wall as John and Gabrielle Scawthorn as Becky Benedict Wall as John and Gabrielle Scawthorn as Becky (Photo: Andrew Vasquez)

THE VILLAGE BIKE is an interesting alternative way of seeing women and how they are viewed and treated in modern society and a reminder that regardless of how far we think we've come in gaining control of our own lives, society still has somewhat outdated views of what we should be.

THE VILLAGE BIKE

Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo

Photos: Andrew Vasquez


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