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Review: THE TRIALS AND PASSIONS OF UNFAMOUS WOMEN, Brixton House Theatre

An exploration of the court system through the eyes of women

By: Jun. 18, 2024
Review: THE TRIALS AND PASSIONS OF UNFAMOUS WOMEN, Brixton House Theatre  Image
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Review: THE TRIALS AND PASSIONS OF UNFAMOUS WOMEN, Brixton House Theatre  ImageA courtroom is a place of tradition, of cold reason rather than emotional responses. This is a fact which is highlighted in The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women, a new play produced by LIFT, Brixton House and Clean Break, a company which works to bring the stories of women who are criminalised to a wider audience. The play takes us on an exploration of the court system through the eyes of women, fluctuating between classical stories of female trials and modern testimonies.

Rather than following a linear structure which guides the audience through the chronology of story, this is a performance made up of scenes and stories which interweave and overlap. The versatility of the black box theatre is put to the test, the space transforming over the course of the 90 minutes from promenade to thrust to a form of the round. 

Review: THE TRIALS AND PASSIONS OF UNFAMOUS WOMEN, Brixton House Theatre  Image
Athena Maria
Photo Credit: Ellie Kurttz

Entering the space, audiences are greeted by four goddesses and a court jester and encouraged to interact with the performers before the show. This immersive atmosphere continues with various moments of audience engagement and interaction, thus the witnesses become a part of this ancient system. The history of the court system is  explained, the actors calling upon classical Greek stories, Brecht and even Mary Queen of Scots. Some stories are simply told, while others are acted, the cast shifting between roles and costumes as the performance demanded.

Each of the actors brings a raw vulnerability to their tales, drawing the audience in and encouraging sympathy and provoking thought. We gain an insight into each story during the opening sequence, a promenade in which the goddesses tell their stories to those closest to them. Through this use of the space, the audience becomes immersed in the atmosphere of the performance before it truly begins, these first few minutes acting as an interactive preset.

The performance is a collaborative project, a community coming together to produce something poignant. The creative team produce interesting sound recordings (designed by Mwen) and a simple set which is able to shift between many locations with ease.

Designer Alex Berry has found simple and effective ways to create not only versatile sets, but also costumes which begin as elaborate and otherworldly and slowly unravel into authenticity and vulnerability. Honesty and vulnerability are at the centre of the whole project, the stripping back of societal stigmas and solicitors’ wigs in order to reveal the very human realities of what it means to be a part of this world and what can cause someone to transgress.

Review: THE TRIALS AND PASSIONS OF UNFAMOUS WOMEN, Brixton House Theatre  Image
Dominique Lavine Wood-Whyte and Sarah-Jane Dent
Photo Credit: Ellie Kurttz

Unfortunately, there are moments in which sections of the audience lose the depth of the performance due to the positioning of the actors, the challenges of the thrust staging not always being navigated as effectively as possible.

Ultimately, this is a didactic piece of theatre. Drawing upon an ancient tradition of women passing down wisdom and stories, these women discuss the justice system and challenge audiences to consider the realities of a courtroom. Through the melding of myths and reality, a compelling lesson is explored.

The Trials and Passions of Unfamous Women is at Brixton House until 22 June

Photo Credits: Ellie Kurttz




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