REVIEW: The Female Gaze & Other Stories, Volume III: Spellbound (Cockpit Theatre) ★★★★

The Female Gaze & Other Stories has so far offered two previous volumes focusing on female sexuality and tales from the female body, striving to explore the strengths, vulnerabilities and untold stories from female minds. Their work continues as they return with Volume III: ‘Spellbound‘; across four performances we experience alternative approaches to this: witchcraft and the occult, but additionally more obscure perspectives, such as the monotony and rituals of daily life and the denial that exists between reality and escapism.

This volume was faithful to the Rich Creative style of incorporating humour alongside meaningful topics; such as in first performance ‘The Circle’, which explores the seriousness behind learning to trust a sexual partner and allowing them to cross your psychological walls, but still offering several moments of laughter. The symbolic nature of this piece was rather beautiful. ‘Sister Moon’ created a very different atmosphere, with four young women going about their activities in a coven; the references to the occult were authentically written and well-researched, but the dialogue between the women felt more teenage and vacuous than early twenties, which took away from the otherwise very interesting subject matter. However, there were some very interesting characters at play here, and I could see this expanding into a very interesting full-length piece, if further refined.

Thirdly we had ‘Mooncalves’, which dealt with the planned transition into womanhood held by three young women, culminating in a powerful spiritual experience – this was a particular stand-out script for me, and received a very strong reaction from an engaged audience, particularly because of the high energy and quality of acting. Finally, the most abstract piece of the night came in the form of ‘Something Spinning Ends’, in which repetition and monotony of ritual were demonstrated. The first part of the act produced a noticeably restless audience, visibly underwhelmed by the repeated actions and jarring sound effects. Fortunately the second half of it was more engaging, however it was certainly the one that demanded a level of patience and assiduity than its predecessors – it isn’t a classic witchcraft piece, it’s there to challenge your idea of what being ‘spellbound’ in the 21st century is, with impressive originality.

The content of Volume III may at times be a little too cryptic for some audiences, particularly for the theatre-goer who would rather have a story play out in front of them without the need for much mental Olympics. Rich Creative prefer to err on the side of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’, and not all scripts will be delivered in a black and white fashion; there will be ambiguous conversations posing various meanings, and the scene may end without an exact conclusion. If you like formulating your own opinions and debates with your friends afterwards, then this is well-suited for you.

Annabelle Rich and Emily Renée (formerly Emily Warren) are the intuitive and intelligent artists at the helm of Rich Creative; they keep vastly open minds about the scripts that they read and then decide to feature, inviting the work submitted to be as versatile as the authors like (as long as the relation to the theme is clear) and asking that at least one female character is featured per script. Their intention is to provide a platform on which female artists of all disciplines can experiment without judgement or industry pressure.

Considering the topical issue that has emerged into the headlines recently referring to the abuse of women in the entertainment industry, I wanted to hear this feminist theatre duo’s response to this issue. We spoke at length about this, and Emily said: “Rich Creative creates a strong, safe space in which to operate. The mainstream reality [of abuse] may exist, but not here.” They want to remind women that short skirts and sexual expectations are not a prerequisite to gaining success or respect. “Remember why you love acting and focus on that.” The entertainment industry needs more kickass feminist spirit, and with Rich Creative producing heartfelt, intelligent pieces of work such as The Female Gaze volumes, there is a bright horizon ahead.

Rich Creative will be returning to the Cockpit Theatre in December to showcase their final part of The Female Gaze saga.

Reviewed by Laura Evans