Of all the things I’ve missed in 2020, live theatre has to be the greatest loss. So while my battered old laptop isn’t exactly a proscenium arch, it was with great anticipation that my flatmates and I crammed ourselves and our G&Ts onto the sofa to watch the Trinity Players’ virtual MT20 show, ‘And the Walls Spoke’.
Virginia Woolf once wrote that for a woman to be creative she ‘must have money and a room of her own’ to work. I can’t speak for the money, but in 2020 we’ve all spent more time in our rooms, and this production’s team predominantly of women have shown that creativity truly does flourish even when theatre doors are shut. Fittingly, ‘And the Walls Spoke’ opens with Woolf; Cosima Aslangul, and Elise Busset as Rhoda and Jinny from ‘The Waves’. ‘The Waves’ is the only section featuring two actors performing characters from the same text, heightening the contrast between Jinny’s confident command of herself and Rhoda’s uneasy relation to the world around her. That the two women never appear together emphasises their isolation from one another, even when the text references their interactions.
Given the constraints of lockdown, the actors are all filmed separately, in locations around Oxford or their own homes. In keeping with the feminist tone of the play, this liberates the eight female characters from male interference, focussing our attention on their complex emotions towards themselves and to other women, as when Maggie Moriarty’s bitter Jane Eyre compares her own reflection to that of Blanche Ingram. It also allows the audience to appreciate the range and skill of the actors; Moriarty’s mirror scene is particularly powerful, as is Lola Beal’s haunted whispering to the camera, which captures her both in close up and striding out into a turbulent ocean. Women’s isolation against harsh natural landscapes is a recurring motif, tying the disparate monologues together with visual flair; a particularly memorable shot captures Toni Quadri against the backdrop of a ruined church and sweeping sky.
The standout performance, however, comes from Tamsin Sandford-Smith in her brilliantly eerie adaption of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. Sandford-Smith is increasingly unhinged as the nameless protagonist, stalking the corridors of a house haunted by the nineteenth century’s attitudes to women. It is in this section that the show’s videography truly shines, contrasting the monochrome of the protagonist’s every day, confined life with the sickly yellow which increasingly jeopardises her facade of perfect womanhood. The audio and visual jump-scares were incredibly powerful, eliciting at least one scream from my perpetually shocked flatmate.
At other moments I felt that the editing overwhelmed the raw impact of the actor’s voice, and at times background noise became a distraction, as with the birdsong throughout Jigy Anand’s tenderly played Pauline Barrett. While I enjoyed the transitions between sections, with their music and animations, especially after the harder-hitting pieces they did have a tendency to jerk the audience out of the show when the transitions had little to do with the monologue. Yet the overall tone and direction of the performance flowed well, the dreamlike editing and gentle music working with the talented actors to create a moving show that asked the audience to consider the scope of women’s experience, in both its ideal and real forms.
My main complaint was simply a wish for more time to digest the monologues, particularly the lesser-known pieces which audience members might not have heard before. I would have been interested to see the actors or directors Reya Muller and Georgie Dettmer discussing their chosen pieces and placing them in the context of women’s struggles to tell their own stories.
Overall, the Trinity Players have given female characters, actors, and creatives a platform from which to step out of the shadows and onto the (albeit virtual) stage. ‘And the Walls Spoke’ is a refreshing, poignant, and attentively produced piece of theatre, which showcases a wide range of talent and invites the audience to reconsider their preconceptions about the female experience throughout time and space.