Southwark Playhouse, London – until 17 February 2018
Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties was as funny, uplifting and as life-reaffirming as I’d hoped – a glorious blend of cabaret, drag and theatre that, alone, would have made for a great night out. But there’s also something meaningful and important in its examination of the anger of women.
Writer Jen Silverman gives us five Betties from present-day New York. All from different backgrounds, all with different sexualities, and all with different experiences.
And all almost strangers to each other. But they share two things in common – they are unhappy, and they are all searching for something. They think maybe it’s happiness, wealth or fame. But, in truth, it is themselves.
The five Betties may be different, but we recognise the stereotypes they are packaged up in, from the bored rich housewives of the Upper West Side, to the outrageous Latina, to the masculine genderqueer gym fanatic.
But whilst these caricatures are easy vehicles through which to generate the laughs, they are also here to be cleverly subverted. For I got the impression that these caricatures were also masks to the characters themselves.
These five Betties had spent their lives bending and contorting themselves to fit these stereotypes, as much as women bend and contort themselves every day to shape themselves into a society that prescribes how they look, behave, and speak.
The Betties had covered up their hurt and their anger, and denied their own sexuality, thinking that if they became these labels – pretty, butch, tough, thin, glossy, famous – they’d find happiness.
But, of course, you don’t. What you get, as these five Betties show us, is a collective rage. A rage that comes from being a caged bird for so long. And that’s the lesson here – your rage is valid, and your rage is rational. Don’t bottle it up; use it as fuel to tear down the structures that restrain you.
And so these five women, at one time strangers, find themselves embarking on a shared project of producing their own play. Only here, they will shed the characters they’ve been playing all their lives to reveal their true selves, rather than the other way around.
Each of the five women in this cast is excellent: Sara Stewart, Lucy McCormick, Beatriz Romilly, Johnnie Fiori, and Genesis Lynea. Individually, they are charismatic and witty; as a group, they have developed a wonderful bond that draws you in. You want to go to their dinner parties and their rehearsals. And this play also confirms my personal belief that Lucy McCormick, in particular, is a real talent.
There’s no doubt that the surface of Collective Rage is flashy and funny – and a much-needed injection of cheer on cold, gloomy nights – but there’s substance as well as style in this production. And I enjoyed it immensely.