THEA 206/306 review This Long Winter

Three theatre students taking Victoria University of Wellington theatre programme’s new course THEA 206/306: Dramaturgies of the World: Gender and Sexualities in Performance share their reviews of This Long Winter by Sarah Delahunty, playing at BATS Theatre until 20th April 2019

Brooke Soulsby: An Exploration on the Case of Womanhood in Shakespeare and the World.

Pent up and restricted by history, we as women finally possess the license to speak. What happens when the women of Shakespeare are given a voice? Sarah Delahunty, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana and the cast of This Long Winter present a gruelling exploration into the universal – and perhaps timeless – scope of the mistreatment of women, through an inversion of one of the world’s most dominant paradigms: Shakespeare.

This Long Winter makes the intensely poignant claim that the long-silenced women within Shakespeare’s plays – trapped within the original quartos and bound by traditional dramaturgies –have been shaped and governed by men. The play explores the depiction of women by following the retold story of Hermione – excellently portrayed by Erina Daniels – from The Winter’s Tale.  We watch her suffer through a sixteen year pilgrimage in search of her daughter, Perdita (Huia Haupapa), who was taken from her at birth. In her travels, Hermione happens upon instances from other Shakespeare plays wherein women have suffered much at the hands of their male counterparts. We see the image of male inconstancy in Romeo as he soliloquies about his love for Rosalind, but instead becomes enraptured by Emilia (Alice May Connolly) – Hermione’s young handmaiden. We see manipulation in how Helena (Aimee Smith) must pretend to be Diana (Eleanor Strathern), so that she can become pregnant with Bertram’s child, in the belief that this will ‘win his love.’ We see Petruchio (Barnaby Olson) forbid Katherine (Hannah Kelly) from eating until she recognises him as her master. Finally, we see Juliet (Maggie White) who is punished and scorned for having fallen pregnant to her lover while they were yet unmarried. The decision to insert Hermione into these scenes delves into a greater commentary, through these representations, for what it means to be a woman. Thus, her pilgrimage consists of the tragic and debilitating kindred amongst women, as she draws together each scene through comments like “please don’t let her be a girl” and “I do not think we are strangers.” Her journey, although pledged with the long-enduring motivation to find her daughter, acts to strengthen her resolve and reinforce her view on what it means to be a woman.

As you enter the theatre, your sights are arrested by the harsh, grey symmetry of the space. The central doors on the upstage are surrounded by a wall of chicken wire, and are framed with a scaffold base. Perched atop this base for the entirety of the piece, there is a singer (Carrie Green) who seems also to be the chief observer. She, alongside the cellist permanently seated on stage left and the guitarist on stage right, serve to emphasise the emotional tumult of Hermione. The use of music also contributes to the depiction of Hermione as an earthly being; in her white and brown attire, one could even draw connections to Mother Earth. In the beginning of the piece, she is imprisoned under the charge of supposed adultery, and gives birth to Perdita against a tempestuous musical backdrop. She is facing away from the audience, kneeling on the ground, and it appears from this view as though she is delivering Perdita from the earth. This powerful image conjures ideas of woman as a force, and as an emblem of life even in the charcoal, barren winter which acts as the backdrop for women’s suffering within the play. Another instance which articulates this idea is when, after being presumed dead by her husband, Daniels physically portrays extreme exertion while pushing the grey block set pieces around the stage at the beginning of Hermione’s pilgrimage. The music and vocals, “Is there an end to this long winter?” articulate the horrors of what Hermione has just experienced, as well as displaying her desire to break free of her restraints and find Perdita.  Further, after Hermione has met with all of the other abused and wrought female characters, the creation of the soundscape climatically represents Hermione’s own breaking point. The cello, guitar and vocals are accompanied in this instance with the aluminium wings behind the musicians, and the rustling of the chicken wire. By now, she has been wandering for sixteen years and the question lingers: will she ever be reunited with her daughter?

The universality of the mistreatment of women is emphasised further through the costuming decisions. The decision to have different members of the Shakespearean women ensemble dressed in clothing from different periods really draws together the themes of women’s history. One could even say that by having Isabella clothed in a modest 18th century gown, Katherine in 1920’s flapper style attire, and Perdita in 21st century dungarees, the play points towards the commonalities in how women are perceived by men, and that perhaps these themes are perpetuated and continued through the constant discussion surrounding them. When we consider how often Shakespeare and variations of these works are still performed in our society (despite their 500 year old constructions), we may also think on whether these retellings are being used to provoke discussion of women’s issues, or merely to perpetuate these archaic notions of what it means to be an oppressed and abused woman. The character of Perdita is depicted as being a young millennial who by the conclusion of the play suggests a celebration for the reunion of herself and both of her parents. There is an interesting point to be made here regarding youth and a lack of exposure to her mother’s past experiences and hardships. She suggests the importance of forgiveness for there to be progress, and leaves Hermione and Paulina standing onstage in the sculpture studio, again repeating the lines: “Will there be an end to this long winter?”

Delahunty’s production implies the perpetuation of social themes through the medium of art and performance texts such as Shakespeare. By the end of the piece, one might leave feeling that there was at least one character onstage who they felt somehow resonated with them. I find myself thinking about the motif of the apple: the initially naïve Emilia eats an apple in the cell after witnessing Hermione in the throngs of childbirth, and later finds herself experiencing the duties of motherhood. Later in the final setting of the sculptor’s gallery, one of the women statues holds an apple in both hands, which one might take as an emblem of either innocence or experience immortalised in stone. The play extends past the happy ending and embarks on a further exploration of how Hermione is to re-enter society with all of these changes to consider. If she does choose to forgive, then what will her new terrain look like? Will winter become spring, or will her past experiences leave her cloaked in the garb of history?

Samantha Sinclair: A Journey of Gender

This Long Winter follows Hermione of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. After being thrown into jail by her husband and being accused of infidelity, Hermione gives birth to a girl named Perdita. Taken from her loving mothers arms, she is left on a hillside to die. Luckily escaping with the help of Paulina, Hermione sets off on a treacherous 16 year mission to find her daughter. Along the way we are introduced to more Shakespearean characters, who are not represented in the way we are quite used to.

Choosing to take her story into her own hands we see Hermione as a strong independent woman, continuing against all odds to find her daughter. Along Hermione’s journey we meet more Shakespearean women throughout different eras, shown through a smart stylistic choice in costuming and minimalist set design, who are treated poorly by men.

Emilia marries and believes she has to settle, she has kids and lives as a housewife. Isabella is threatened that if she doesn’t sleep with Angelo there will be harm to come. When Isabella screams out for help that someone see how she is being treated, Hermione says she was a witness and can help. Isabella accepts that this will mean nothing: “you’re a woman they wouldn’t believe you”, a nod to the #metoo movement. When Hermione helps pregnant Juliet, Juliet asks for her name and vows if she have a daughter to name her Hermione. Hermione mutters, “don’t let it be a girl”.  The representations of gender in This Long Winter are brutal and honest. Today we feel the right to stand up for ourselves and other women. We see this through Perdita, she is fierce, strong and confident – what a women should be.

There are men that we see in our own lives: the control freak, the vile, the sleaze. Benvolio screams toxic masculinity, saying few words yet terrifying Emilia, obviously proud of his power and control over her. Romeo is no longer a sweet romantic but just a guy trying to get laid. We see the him repeating his bright star speech, an obvious swoon technique to get the ladies right where he wants them. Romeo subsitutes Emilia’s name into the speech like a fill in the blanks – “something or rather, what was your name again?”. While these men are meant to show the monster men in our society, are they all that realistic? The ‘bad ones’ in our communities are not so outwardly vile. A glimmer of hope for the male population is seen through Florizel, who is Perdita’s sweet boyfriend. He listens to Perdita and stands up for her rather than turning on her. We hope that the world will continue with making equality more common, Perdita voicing this “not all men are like that nowadays, were equal” yet it leaves us with the question, is she right? Will we ever completely be equal?

This Long Winter is a piece of art, my heart ached, I laughed, I was outraged. But in thinking about the play in the context of gender, I don’t know if it really raises up woman or destroys men. None the less I enjoyed it and would recommend for anyone to see.

Emily Griffiths: Hermione’s Search for Justice

In This Long Winter, playwright Sarah Delahunty depicts moments of injustice and discrimination against women through the use of Shakespearean characters/references. She shows this through the story of Hermione, a woman who is falsely accused by her husband, (The King of Sicily) who believes she had an affair. Imprisoned for this crime, the very pregnant Hermione ends up giving birth to her daughter Perdita in jail before she goes to court to plead her case. However, Leontes takes Perdita and abandons the baby in the wild to die. Heartbroken, Hermione faints in court and is believed to be dead. Paulina ‘sets her free’ by telling everyone she is dead. With her old life no more, Hermione travels the country as a pilgrim in a long search for her lost daughter.

The characters used in the play can be found in different plays by Shakespeare such as The Winter’s Tale, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Measure for Measure and The Taming of the Shrew. Even some of the dialogue used in the play was originally Shakespeare’s. Sampson from Romeo and Juliet once again talks about how women want to be “thrust to a wall”. One of Hermione’s best quotes in the play, in my opinion, was adapted from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice; “Are we not human? If you hurt us, do we not bleed?”

With all of these Shakespeare references, it did make it hard to understand what was going on during some moments in the play. For example, the first scene was a reference to the play, A Winter’s Tale. I didn’t need to have read A Winter’s Tale to understand this play as a whole; it was pretty straightforward and I would have picked it up at the end. However, I needed to have read it to understand that exact situation. This was the same for all the references. I understood the situation with Romeo because I knew the play he was from. However, I still don’t understand why Katherine couldn’t eat, why Isabella was threatened or who Emilia excessively talks about marrying. All that was clear, was that men were the reason for their suffering.

When we first see Hermione, Emilia and Paulina, they are dressed in what you would expect from a Shakespearean play. Their dresses were made to look around the same era of Shakespeare, with the slight exception of Hermione’s white boots complete with a zipper down the side. However, the next characters we meet (Sampson and Gregory) are in more 1950’s ‘Grease look’ clothing.  I tried to figure out why all the characters were in differing era fashion styles. I believe Production Designer Michael Trigg and Playwright Sarah Delahunty wanted to make a feminist point through these decisions. By showcasing multiple examples of fashion from different eras, it demonstrates that the problems of discrimination against women are not just a thing of the past, but continue to happen today. Before Hermione is reunited with Perdita, she suddenly meets Emilia again who is dressed in a plain, cream dress that is still depicting an older fashion era. We find out that Emilia never married a prince, but a servant instead. Although she is married and has the children she wanted, she still wants desperately to leave her life to go with Hermione. Later on, Hermione and Paulina are reunited and have changed to a more modern look. I believe this depicts Hermione and Paulina having moved on with their life without men. Paulina has been making art on her own and Hermione has found her daughter. Emilia however, is still chasing a dream and is not happy with her current situation. As Paulina and Hermione have been able to move on, so has their fashion in time, whereas Emilia has just stood still.

Because it was a feminist play and I identify as a female, I wondered what this play would look/feel like to a person who identified as one of these “tormentors” described in the play. So, my partner came along. At the end of the play, he commented that it was enjoyable. However, it was definitely a ‘Play for the Girls,’ and he felt uncomfortable being a guy in that theatre space. The play had a very big ‘Us and Them’ motif and showed a ‘broken’ situation between men and women, with the latter being abused or broken down in a way. However, there was no real conclusion to show how this can be fixed. How can this play be constructive and help change peoples views to the better without showing the audience an example of how they can ‘move forward?’

I have a love/hate relationship with this play. I did enjoy the play’s story, the characters which linked to Shakespeare, and the uses of costume and set. And I can’t go on without saying how talented Erina Daniels is with her performance of Hermione. Throughout the play, her tone and volume in her voice were so convincing that I believed every word Daniels said. Even the way she was able to cry was so breathtaking that I almost teared up.

The whole story was enjoyable, however, it also made me passionately angry and wanting more. The point was clear: women have been and are being abused by men and there is a need for change. This play is a good reminder to society about discrimination with an easily repetitive cycle. If it had been shown to an ignorant audience who hadn’t been reminded before, it would be very hard hitting. It definitely is a stark harsh reality, and this is a very brave play as it is in your face a lot. The play also ‘shows not tells’, but it does have a few ‘preachy’ lines.

The main focus is that men are in control and bully women. Quotes like “Men are brave and strong and tears are for women” or “They like to feel in control” really push this point into
the audience. Even Katherine’s quote “He won’t let me eat. He won’t let me sleep” really puts the focus on the HE in that sentence. The women in this story who get tormented by these men end up not being able to move forward and get literally stuck in time as statues. When Hermione picks up the chisel at the end of the play it shows that Hermione has decided to ‘carve’ her own path. However, fixing the discrimination remains a larger task. It continue on and that frustrates me.