The mood is set when a female usher shouts at the audience to get in line and “shut the fuck up”. A young woman dashes out of the theatre, clearly distressed.
Inside, the stage is a square, sandy arena in which six motherless, handcuffed daughters from Shakespeare’s plays – seven when the Jailer’s daughter from Two Noble Kinsmen arrives – squabble and bemoan their imprisonment. A siren sounds and Desdemona, Cordelia, Ophelia, Jessica from The Merchant of Venice, Kate “the Curst” and Lavinia from Titus Andronicus line up to admit their faults as perceived by men. Lavinia, bereft of tongue and hands, can only moan.
The women blame men, man or perhaps God for their predicament (surely not Shakespeare, creator of arch stage-manager Rosalind, co-murderer Lady Macbeth and imperious Cleopatra) but their problem is less patriarchy than the lack of a mother. Miranda (it was she bursting out of the auditorium) was excluded for talking of hers. What sort of prison is this to which inmates can refuse entry? Belatedly, they realise that they must take the initiative, remove their uniform grey balaclavas and even Lavinia finds a voice.
An ensemble play for women is welcome and the performers act bravely under Whit Hertford’s direction. But surely seven women forced together would come up with some ironic wit, even a few laughs?