By Zoe Haylock
What I like about ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ is that it has much to say. The directors both allow the story to be presented cleanly and efficiently; we get from point A to point B with ease. Yet, they also make ample attempts at giving the audience more humanity and links to the society that we live in. The musical is set in 1970’s Texas. The community around it grapples with the illegality of a whorehouse, whilst those who work in it and use its services fear a world where it doesn’t exist.
They see their piece as serving wider societal importance
I witnessed the performance with much interest in how the gender roles are presented. The production itself, made by the Feather Theatre Company, recently partook in a #NOTONMYCAMPUS event: their creatives are making a point that they see their piece as serving wider societal importance. The characterisation that the directors, Jenny Pavitt and Hannah Smith, choose to emphasise shows this. The gender roles are clearly set. The women as innocent Christians juxtaposed with the deceitful, powerful men shows the running dichotomy of the performance – power relations are key to this society, and
Power relations are key to this society
This does show, albeit in a slightly precarious way. Female solidarity is an important theme throughout the musical. The women make up the majority of the cast and prove to have strong bonds of sisterhood. The hierarchy of the cast goes when the female ensemble perform; they are all equal. I also like the way that each actress approaches their character. Each is a prostitute yet feel empowered in their role. The inequality that they face as women in this society does not phase them. These are not broken women, but women who use their position to make sense of themselves as autonomous beings. The costumes also reflect this. Vivid is the word I would use to describe the outfits; they draw attention to their occupation with no suggestion of shame. The stark outfits that they have could evoke vulnerability but instead is played off by the cast as mundane, as if to say that the women are not defined by their work or by the male gaze. Or, we could view it as showing how this occupation is entrenched into this society. It serves to characterise both the individuals and the society of the play.
The stand out performance is definitely Miss Mona, played by Grace Brimacombe-Rand. She exemplifies what it means to live as your character; her acting is seamless. I also enjoy how she allows the vulnerability of her character- a manager of a whorehouse- to come through. We understand her need for self-preservation, the fear of opening yourself up to others and being responsible for the livelihoods of those around you. The performance of Tasmin Martin-Young, who plays Jewel, stands out due to her superb singing ability. Moreover, Kyle Kirkpatrick as Sherriff Ed Earl shows the importance of showing an emotional development in a character. There are some funny sections, but I feel that certain comedic moments could be emphasised more. I would say that if the cast as a whole increased their confidence the production would be elevated even further, especially since confidence invites audience engagement.
These are not broken women, but women who use their position to make sense of themselves as autonomous beings.
The performance space of the piece seems, on first sight, difficult to work with. However, the production team make it their own. The limited stage space resembles a cage, mirroring how the characters are caged in their gender roles. The stand out aspect of this staging though is the closeness to which the audience is to the band. The musical performances are very impressive. I could feel the energy of the music and this, along with the enthusiastic narration, keeps the piece wedded to the musical vivacity that is so central to a good musical.