November 06

The Feather in the Web – Nick Coyle and a woman in love. (Theatre Review)

The Feather in the Web

Griffin Theater Company

Stables Theatre 5 October – 17 November

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Brett Boardman

If Kimberly (Claire Lovering) is in any trouble in The Feather in the Web, it is less from Miles (Gareth Davies) and more from her writer Nick Coyle. Filled with ambition to write a thrilling female character Nick Coyle presents us with an altered manic pixie dream girl (the very beautiful Claire Lovering made to look dowdy) who comes to crushing ‘truths’ driven by mystical biological forces that amount to little more than woman as image or spectacle and man as the bearer of the look. “To gaze implied more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze… (the play) here is an instrument of the male gaze, producing representations of women, … the sexual fantasy from a male point of view.”[1] It is a male fantasy that women form obsessive love attachments that range from Catherine (Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim) to Alex (Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction) and a sexual fantasy that leads inevitably to an increased mythological presentation of the female. Even in his notes to the play, the only ‘real’ antagonist to wild unfettered female freedom Nick Coyle can imagine is ‘love.’ For a man of course – not a child, a philosophy, a cause or creativity. It’s Kimberly’s genes that will work against her, tame her irrevocably, and (literally) turn her into a drooling mess of self-refusal that has her tamed beyond any rational example’s life can offer us. These ‘genes’ that strangely obey the laws of a Christian God – I’m just saying.

The concern here is that a passive audience is influenced by this representation of reality and mirror it into actual reality, resulting in women viewing each other through the male gaze and increased hegemonic ideologies within our society. It is said that it is better to feel something than nothing, therefore the enormous romance of Kimberly’s unrelenting love is attractive, particularly in light of the underserving nature of her subject. Godard himself declared that New Wave filmmakers’ film “girls the way we see them, boys like the ones we run into every day … in short the way things are.” But of course, this presumes Godard can see the way things are. All thinking women know men can’t see them. To move beyond the male gaze is not to offer multiple perspectives on who women are, it is to allow women to define their position in society. The Feather in the Web becomes ironic and paradoxical when the appropriately unpleasant Miles is the source of how we view Kimberly despite her being a ‘modern woman.’ We see Kimberly as Miles sees her, and in refusing her ugly-duckling-into-a-swan moment, Nick Coyle plays into the random chaos and horror of unrequited love, using Miles’ gaze to refuse Kimberly. The presumption is that Kimberly is refused by society and that her love is pure – not the conceit that we are seeing Kimberly from Miles’ point of view.

If an audience member (female or male) can sympathise, it is because we have experienced this sort of love (usually in our youth as a way of avoiding the impending enormity of adulthood) and survived it rather than because it has claimed us. The truth of feminine love and fidelity at its most traditional is more likely to be on behalf of ideology (religion, babies, duty) than the male who symbolises those things. It is only men who think women actually fall like this for the man himself and that it is a power they can wield. It is the most simplistic and antiquated of male fantasies to see a woman jump to a male command. It is only the sophistication in a 2018 theatre audience that imagines the plays presentation into an ‘us’ dimension and away from ‘her.’ Nick Coyle has come up with a wonderful female character, then subdued her according to very traditional standards. To paraphrase Agnes Varda, we are not interested in seeing a play just because it is a female character written by a man… the question isn’t men or women. The question is to fight for innovative plays, a genuine theatrical language that aims to use characters and their presentation in alternative ways.

None of this is to say that The Feather in the Web has no value. It is a very funny presentation and makes great use of contemporary observation inside marvelously written characterization. Ben Winspear’s direction is overtly French New Wave surrealism and this style suits the writing very well. Much of the play’s strength lies in this regression countered by recrudescence that is intellectually stimulating and partners into Nick Coyle’s writing style with dynamism. Nick Coyle is an excellent comedic writer, and Ben Winspear has assembled a powerhouse cast with impeccable timing. The Feather in the Web may have its problems, but you can be assured of a very funny evening emboldened by stand out performances.

At the pulsing heart of this production is a superb effort by Claire Lovering as the tragic Kimberly. With precision timing and the best dead pan face you’ll see on a stage in 2018, Kimberly comes to absorbing life, and a gratifying realism. Claire Lovering is supported by the comedic antics of Gareth Davies, the sophisticated elegant wit of Tina Bursill and the clever subtlety of Michelle Lim Davidson. Designer Sophie Fletcher creates worlds upon worlds with an unfolding set design that redefines deep as a simplistic series of layers. The interesting set is sustained by enigmatic lighting design from Trent Suidgeest and transformative sound from Steve Toulmin. The Feather in the Web is a very funny night of theatre that will have you alternating betweeen being in stitches and remininicing about that great love that got away.

[1] An Investigation into the representation of Women in French New Wave Cinema: Charlotte lily Hanson-Lowe