Female Parts

Dario Fo and Franca Rame play with the emotions

A quick scan of the Belfast theatre listings for the month of June is enough to give anyone a touch of the hot flushes or cold sweats. With The Vagina Monologues and Women on the Verge of HRT at the Opera House and Female Parts at the Old Museum Arts Centre, it’s very definitely a case of sisters doing it for themselves.

Rawlife Theatre Company is in prolific form at the moment. No sooner has the dust settled on its highly praised production of Patrick Marber’s black comedy Dealer’s Choice in the Baby Grand than they are back with a trio of short one-woman plays by the celebrated Italian writers Dario Fo and Franca Rame.

Over the years, husband and wife playwrights, performers and political activists Fo and Rame have been both revered and reviled in their native Italy for their biting satires and public demonstrations, which take no prisoners when it comes to highlighting injustice and inequality at the highest level of society. They have fallen foul of church, state, security forces and censors in their determination to make their case heard and listened to by as wide an audience as possible.

Their preferred dramatic form is farce and their use of broad slapstick and often singularly unsubtle humour have been effective weapons in conveying their message to the masses, on stage and in the street, on factory floors and car parks.

But they are equally expert at the classic dramatic device of getting an audience to roar with laughter, before slamming on the brakes, abruptly halting the humour and turning the thought process towards something altogether darker and more serious.

That is very much the case with Female Parts. In a successful effort to attract audiences, Rawlife has concentrated its publicity on the comic element of the first play in the trilogy ‘A Woman Alone’. Viewed in isolation, it is a pretty dreadful piece of theatre. Its script and dramatic demands are deliberately as superficial, repetitious and irritating as the life of the central character.

Mary Moulds brings tremendous energy and over-the-top humour to the clichéd role of the put-upon housewife, imprisoned by her sexually demanding husband with only a wailing child, a lecherous paraplegic brother-in-law and a predatory secret lover for company.

The audience becomes her sounding board, the single channel through which she can vent her pent-up frustrations, depression and desperation. At a certain point in the action, one absolutely shares her desire to stick her head in the oven.

But after the interval, everything changes. The laughter ends. Moulds returns in chillingly reflective mode, sitting alone on a straight-backed chair, reliving in sickening detail a violent gang rape of which she was the victim. Like so many women, she minimises the physical and psychological damage, seemingly immune to the horrible acts inflicted upon her. And again, like so many women who get up and carry on living, she puts off reporting the crime until another day.

The final play is a delightful piece of classic Fo/Rame surrealism, a modern fairy tale peppered with naughty, scatological references and subversive images.

A deceptively innocent little girl uses her foul-mouthed dolly to help her wreak revenge on modern day society, controlled as it is by nerdy computer programmers. Under Martin McSharry and Lyn Harris’s direction, Moulds plays it to perfection, rounding off a thought-provoking evening’s entertainment in which each of her demanding, contrasting roles is dependent upon the other for full impact and social significance.

Jane Coyle