Unless you have context (and I didn’t before entering the theatre), this play will make little sense.
By context, I am referring to the notes playwright Laura Collins has in the electronic program.
I never read a program before watching a production. I do so afterwards and, even then, only after I have written down my thoughts.
That is the way I have always reviewed … for one specific reason.
Photos by Toby Hoffman
I believe that a play needs to carry itself without the expectation that we – members of the audience – should do “homework” beforehand.
What unfolds in front of us should be self-explanatory.
While that may be fine in theory, such an approach doesn’t work for The Cave of Spleen.
Had I read the notes, my appreciation of the piece would have grown … at least somewhat.
As it was, I was simply left frustrated, so let me help you out.
Laura Collins wanted to write an angry play about the climate crisis, the angriest play she could.
She was looking to create a work that celebrated female rage and was unapologetically unhinged in its fury.
So be it, but then she got sick. Weekly migraines became daily occurrences.
Subsequently, chronic pain became a central pillar of the work.
The Cave of Spleen is a fictional hellscape referenced in Alexander Pope’s 1712 narrative poem The Rape of the Lock.
His idea was that of a dystopian underworld filled with women afflicted with chronic conditions.
So it is that Collins set about exploring the similarities between chronic pain experienced by women and the environmental destruction of the earth.
Four women – Rose (Pia O’Meadhra), Dahlia (Heather Riley), Marigold (Amelia Jane) and Juniper (Nisha Joseph) – get together in a cave.
Three are angry and disillusioned. They want to blow something up … to commit the ultimate act of environmental activism.
The fourth, Rose, urges a calm and measured approach. She is all about education.
Truth be told, all sorts of ideas are bandied about, but the quartet can’t agree on their strategy, nor their tactics. They argue with one another.
Then Rose is distracted and becomes all consumed by pain. She has a very sore head.
The other three continue their scheming until another also suffers from debilitating pain … and so on.
Having provided context, I don’t think The Cave of Spleen has enough variation.
It appears too repetitious and doesn’t sustain its 75-minute running time.
I get the eco-feminist slant and I am all in favour of that, but I wanted more substance.
The performances are solid enough, but the actors’ voices are often subjugated by the underlying music bed and the cavernous nature of the venue.
In other words, it is at times difficult to clearly hear what they are saying, especially given the often breakneck speed of delivery.
It shouldn’t have been a competition between sounds, but that is what it was, especially early on.
The minimalist staging – a thin layer of grey silt, a large flat rock, a much smaller flat rock and three sets of what I call pixie lights on the floor – is creative.
Add to that, chalk marks on the back wall of the theatre and still others peeking through the sediment on the ground. Fiona MacDonald is the designer.
The “fog” and lighting are atmospheric and add to the mood. The lighting designer is Giovanna Yate Gonzalez.
Notwithstanding the positives, The Cave of Spleen feels like an unfinished work, which could be developed to give it more impact and add gravitas.
Directed by Stephanie Ghajar, it is playing at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory until 12th August, 2023.