Julia Grogan and Lydia Higman
Daring Hare Productions, Thena Mimmack
The Vaults (forge) Leake Street
Belly Up, set in 18th century England but with contemporary language, could almost be a raucous television comedy, with its broad, clownish dialogue and its tilt to the issue of women’s rights. Except the things the male characters say are often too stupidly sexist to appeal to those looking for a message about women’s rights and the message, which I would gladly have cheered, sounded as if it belonged in a different play.
The imagined story centres on the character Liberty Whitley, sentenced to death for the killing of a man in self-defence as he was trying to violently rape her.
Liberty’s sexual preference is for women, but to get a reprieve, she claims she is pregnant and is then faced with the problem of getting herself pregnant in prison.
Julia Grogan is lively and engaging as Liberty, on stage throughout the performance, bringing the character to life and often speaking directly to the audience about what is taking place. However, the male characters barely reach the level of cardboard villains. They are mere mouthpieces for poor jokes.
Barnaby Wallace Croft (Michael Bijok), for instance, asks Liberty, “have you lost weight? Your tits seem to have shrunk,” and later, seeing her a little upset, asks her, “would you like a menstrual rag to cry into?”
Such jokes, (if they can be called jokes) for some reason got huge laughs from the audience, but they undermine any sense of realism or jeopardy to the injustice facing Liberty. Adding to the pantomime effect of the show, we even get men dressed as women adopting the usual irritating exaggerated voice and mannerisms of the mock stereotypes of women.
This show needs to decide if it is an old fashioned sexist farce with knockabout nonsense or something more challenging about the historical abuse of women so long hidden. Of course the latter can be achieved through comedy, but if the writers want it to be consistent with the story they need better jokes than the ones in Belly Up.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna