Fierce – The truly sublime Real of football. (Theatre Review)

Fierce

The Old Fitz Theare

March 20 to April 13. You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Clare Hawley

In her notes on the play, writer Jane e Thompson tells us that she asked herself a question: “What would happen if a woman was good enough to compete against men at the highest level in football?” From this she expands into a fictional world that is anything other than fictional. Succinctly, the writer pursues what happens to everyone else, not the character at the center of the question. Female bodies are a battlefield, upon which wars are won and lost, and Jane e Thompson depicts these wars (literally in one beautifully wrought scene) playing out on the body and psyche of her protagonist Suze Flack (Lauren Richardson). Coaches do not know what to ‘do’ with her, fellow players don’t know what to ‘do’ with her, her escort lover doesn’t know what to ‘do’ with her, the ultra-feminized footballers wives don’t know what to ‘do’ with her. When Jane e Thompson reveals a woman displaying physical prowess, it becomes glaring and obvious that this discombobulates all other gender oriented narratives with it. By not knowing what to ‘do’ with Suzie Flack, we find out we don’t know who we ‘are’ when a woman removes herself from the rules of femininity that set the scene for all other senses of power. The reason these angry young men feel that feminism is so personal to them, is that there is no ‘man’ when there is no ‘woman’. He is defined by his opposite.

While the issue of gender parity and its associated risks to those privileged under patriarchy is well considered and clearly represented, the true cleverness of Fierce, is the depiction of Suzie Flack and her physical prowess. Strong characterization is supported by a stellar performance by Lauren Richardson. Lockstep with her writer, Lauren Richardson loves her character and relishes the subversive nature of depicting a woman physically on par with men. The myth that women are physically weaker than men is one of patriarchy’s most successful accomplishments. Women die in the United States at lower rates than men in twelve of the fifteen primary causes of death, and this phenomena occurs all through life. Of babies receiving the same care, that die on the day they are born, the biggest chance of survival is being female. Women have developed greater resistance than men in almost every cause of death.[1] Even with common colds and almost all infections, women are more robust than men. While this may come as a surprise, the history of reluctance to research all this will not. Men are physically superior to women in only one significant area, and that is upper body strength – guess where all the research has gone previously? Patriarchy may deem a thin woman beautiful, or curvy women beautiful, but the small breasted, sporadically menstruating bodies of female athletes are universally considered abnormal, ugly or just plane ‘odd.’ Certainly, they are never held up as normal or an example to strive for by those outside of a result driven sports hobby.

But Jane e Thompson reverses all that in one swift move with the remarkable Suzie Flack. The narrative of Fierce is not limited to story, but is depicted in some beautifully wrought scenes of female physical prowess. Director Janine Watson with movement consultant Julia Billington place Suzie and her ensemble (Zelman Cressey, Andrew Shaw and Martin Jacobs) in confident, elegant scenarios that properly evoke the image that gives rise to possibility. Herein lies Jane e Thompson’s real connection to powerhouse writing. While the story is ‘about’ what happens to others around Suzie Flack, it provides an eminently repeatable image. Suzie Flack is possible now, because Jane e Thompson, Janine Watson (assisted by Olivia Aleksoski) Lauren Richardson and Julia Billington (and a remarkable cast) have brought her to a possible (probable) life.

Fierce is a sublime production that heralds yet another wonderful collaboration between Red Line Productions and anything producers Eliose Snape and Janine Watson touch at The Old Fitz. As a director Janine Watson properly intuits Jane e Thompsons truly brilliant work (scene changes are pure delight in this production) and the result is a fine collaboration whose convergence reverberates from every aspect of the very hard work of producing theatre. Lauren Richardson gives a stand out performance as Suzie Flack, showing a remarkably astute interpretation of a subtle and complex work. She is well supported by an intelligent and insightful ensemble cast of Zelman Cressey, Stacey Duckworth, Andrew Shaw, Martin Jacobs, Chantelle Jamieson and Felix Johnson.  Each bring Suzie’s journey alive and form the essential display of believability in the events contributing to Fierce’s trajectory. Each role in the ensemble is gifted superb lines and wonderful opportunities to shine and every actor relishes their good fortune.

Much of the play’s authenticity is the contribution of Kelsey Lee’s lighting and Genevive Muratore’s audiovisuals (and superb stage management) riffing off Melanie Liertz’s set. Mood and tone are set with confidence and skill exhibiting a strong understanding of the nuances of the play. Ben Pierpoint excels with sound design that supports and respects the plays aesthetic. Cohesion around a sophisticated message is no easy thing to pull off, and the producers and directors of Fierce have managed this entirely.

Red Line Productions have been making great strides forward in their efforts toward proper representation of a variety of hot political topics, and they deserve full credit for deciding to schedule Fierce. Fierce is one of those great pieces of theatre that ‘ticks boxes’ but equally justifies the deliberate nature of its inclusion. It’s one of the best pieces of writing I have seen by a woman seeking to do ‘something’ with the opportunities gifted her and I wish all connected to the production very well in future years.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/11/the-weaker-sex-science-that-shows-women-are-stronger-than-men  It will come as no surprise to find that of the forty three people in the world over one hundred and ten years of age, forty two are women.

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