Five New York women, each called Betty Boop, join forces to stage the play-within-a-play from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In doing so, every Betty gets angry and resists conformity, a couple of Betties fall in love, one feels jealous of her friend’s showbiz ambitions and the meekest Betty unravels to become her own guitar-playing vagina.
This is the premise of Jen Silverman’s Collective Rage, given its UK premiere in a magnificent production by Antic Face, directed by Charlie Parham.
It’s beautifully absurd, extremely funny and self-referential in a sprightly, non-smug way. Unapologetically feminist and queer, it’s nonetheless animated by an inclusive, irresistible and recalcitrant comic energy that modulates into moments of poignancy.
The cast are all excellent. Such is the quality of the writing that no single Betty steals the show, although Beatriz Romilly comes close as brassy Latina Betty Three in a tight red skirt, who discovers the power of theatre (“theat-ah”) on a date with a rich married woman. As butch truck-enthusiast Betty Four, Johnnie Fiori combines bluffness with an endearing sense of vulnerability, while Genesis Lynea’s gender-fluid boxing coach Betty Five drolly delivers prison reminiscences and captures the heart of bored Upper East Side housewife Betty One (Sara Stewart).
Lucy McCormick gives a sensitive and startling performance as the timorous, sexually unfulfilled Betty Two, who fears her vagina might contain a small creature “like a lizard or a dwarf hamster.” A seemingly simple set design – a raised platform with dressing tables – enables the Betties’ sartorial transformations.