The Female of the Species

The Female of the Species
By Joanna Murray-Smith. Melville Theatre. Directed by Lars Jensen. Roy Edinger Theatre, Melville, WA. Nov 30-Dec 9, 2023

The Female of the Species is loosely based on an incident where feminist academic and writer, Germaine Greer was taken hostage in her home by a teenage, female student.

As acerbic and clever Margot Mason works on her latest book, her peace is disturbed by student Molly Rivers - who has arrived unannounced to visit the famous feminist. It soon is revealed that seemingly sweet Molly’s intentions are to take hostage, then kill Margot, but the hostage situation becomes rather complicated.

Rosalba Jeffreys returns to the stage after a long absence, to play the central character, opinionated, and often not very likeable Margot. A nuanced and intelligent performance belies a reduced rehearsal period (she replaced an actress who was unable to continue), and she is an excellent anchor for the show. Limited in movement for much of the show, as she is handcuffed to the chair - she is also unfortunately partly obscured by a desk but manages to exert her energy despite these restrictions.

Madelaine Page shines as Molly, who is bent on revenge as she believes that Margot’s writings have ruined her life. Flipping seamlessly between being an endearing and caring young woman and being a deranged lunatic intent on homicide, Madelaine’s catalyst performance is outstanding. Nikki Di Camillo is lovely as Tess Thornton, Margot’s daughter. Struggling emotionally with her role as wife and mother, and carrying a lot of resentment towards Margot, her arrival complicates things further. The three women in this show are outstanding and work together superbly.

Tarek Jabado, a relative newcomer to the stage, plays Bryan Thornton. Despite a high-flying job, it is intimated that Bryan is not very bright and not very interesting - two of the hardest attributes to play on stage (and a lot to ask of a newcomer). Tarek is doing his best, and has lovely energy, but tends to sound stilted, at times, which is unfortunate. Jake Lippo bursts onto the stage as overbearing, over garrulous taxi driver Frank - physically and metaphorically taking up a lot of space, as alpha males tend to do. 

Tom Rees makes a late in show appearance as Chekov’s editor come Deus-ex-machina character Theo Hanover, although he manages to add lots of life and depth to this tiny role.

Director Lars Jenson, more often a designer, gives us a set which gives all appearance of a box set, but with clear or glass walls - an interesting and appropriate metaphor - with Lars also effectively designing light and sound. Margot’s study is beautiful, filled with books and dominated by a large, rather yonic painting. Costumes, simple and contemporary, are well chosen by Michelle Sharp.

The Female of the Species is a fitting swansong for Melville Theatre’s residence in the Roy Edinger Theatre, with future performances in the Main Hall of the Melville Civic Centre, in Almondbury Rd, Booragoon. See it, not only for the quality production, but as a last look at this venue, which has served Melville Theatre so well for many years.

Kimberley Shaw

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