What (is) a Woman
Rating: ★★★
Venue: Arcola Theatre, London
Cast: Andrée Bernard

What (is) a Woman, set over four decades, is a woman’s story of love, laughter and those invited along for the ride. This brand new play takes us on a thrilling, hilarious and familiar journey that resonates with every single gender. The piece, speaks directly to audiences of today, heralding what it is to be a woman in an era of empowerment with raw, authentic and uninhibited writing. It is, at its’ heart, a very human journey.

This new play from writer and performer Andrée Bernard is a story of lost loves, difficult career choices and what it means to be a woman. It is a journey through one woman’s eyes across her lifetime as she recounts her tales with vigour and power. 

Andrée is an accomplished actress, with several West End credits who has now turned her hand to writing. I am unsure if the piece is autobiographical but by any means it feels relatable. The piece begins with a recounting of a lustful encounter with a ‘Tall American’, a man who for many years it seems has kept our leading lady dangling on a string, desperate for his attention.

We then move backward in time to first loves, mistakes and ultimate losses. This is a powerful section in the piece, performed with intensity and sensitivity. As we follow her life, everything feels a little shallow which is a shame. It would have been good to have looked a little deeper into her motivations and feelings beyond looking for the love of her life. I would have liked to see more beyond her need for external validation from the men in her life.

As we move through the show, Andrée plays every role, from the sleazy agent, to the dashing Mr Wright. Andrée is given great opportunity to show off her acting skills and physical prowess in this show. A simple costume of a beige dress allows her to embody each character and switch with ease from one to the next. There are some very clever interactions and use of lighting to portray different moods and locations.

The songs are all well written and placed throughout the piece. Though some did feel a little too large for the show they were within; possibly with a larger cast it would even out more. The songs are catchy though and lovely to listen to throughout, and some contain hilarious lyrics. Each song comes with clever choreography from Lucie Pankhurst, with beautiful motifs throughout. Lucie uses the movement to help enhance the messages within each song which works very well.

This is a piece which really tries to draw you in to their world, but I’m not sure it succeeds. I would like to possibly see it expanded to include more depth to the characters and possibly an expansion of the cast to support Andrée in her leading role. It has a lot of potential to be a very moving important piece but it’s not quite there yet for me.

You can book tickets to see What (is) a Woman at the Arcola Theatre, here.

Review by Rosie

**photo credit: Kate Scott**

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