It's 1916, and a group of women in war-tainted East London have a plan to raise money for the Red Cross. Shabby Cat Theatre's play It's A Woman's War delivers the stories of these five individuals: Dorothea, Minnie, Louisa, Alice, and Anna. It's a tale of the hardship that war brings upon women; their issues are much the same as those of their men fighting on the Front, but their roles are overlooked, considered a mere 'duty'. The play is a blend of tragedy, love, despair… and some of the inappropriate hilarity that only a hopeless war can bring.
The women have agreed to temporarily suspend their jam-making, and at Minnie's insistence, are instead rehearsing a piece of theatre. At the time, this was a bold move: the audacity of the idea, and the scandal of 'parading around in a play' lend a wonderful period element to the show. The women's rehearsals span a few months, and the world around them changes constantly, affecting their lives and changing it immeasurably. The plot – although built around quite an obvious theme – tackles love and loss in a fresh way.
Rebecca Kohler plays an excellent Dorothea, both as the leader of the group and as a prim and reserved woman with Victorian ideals of propriety. Minnie is the perfect foil to her, courageous and a suffragist. The scenes between Anna and her husband Philip, and Louisa and her husband George, are both excellent pieces of theatre; the emotion is palpable, as is the tenderness of a man-woman relationship in a very fragile world. Both men play their parts very well – Philip the war veteran, disabled and suffering from shock, contrasts with the pacifist George – and the addition of Alice as a nervous, bumbling young girl is a perfect final touch to the cast.
But stage presence left much to be desired. More than one actor faltered over some lines, which is a shame when the script is so well-written. The attention to detail is lacking too: entrances and exits could have been smoother, and at one point, the audience could clearly see that a diary was empty while a character exclaimed how much was written in it. But this is a début production, and Shabby Cat show definite potential for the future.
Overall, while tackling the oft-repeated theme of a war-torn land – and duly conveying a sense of patriotism and valour – this production delivers a nice twist, in the form of women who decide to step out of their comfort zones. There is an admirable underlying sense of humour and irony, too. So, with a convincing script and glimpses of acting prowess, I have been wooed enough to look out for this new troupe on the theatre block.