Way back in the mists of time, when the pandemic had still to really gain a purchase, Tower Theatre was working on a new devised piece called 5 Women. Now, two years later, it has finally emerged in a new form and just in time for today’s International Women’s Day. As the piece asks the seemingly perpetually burning question about just what has changed for women in the last 200 years it is a useful addition to the ongoing discussion as well as being an engaging and thought provoking piece of audio drama divided into three podcasts which can be listened to individually or in sequence.
In 5 Women – Now & Then, authors Angharad Ormond and Lucy Moss have created what amounts to a tapestry of testimony allowing five women from the 19th Century and five others from more recent times to reveal to us glimpses into their lives and to show the many parallels that exist between them within and across the ages. This highlights that for many the situation is hardly different from how things once were; abuse, neglect, poverty, disease and conflict are unfortunate constants which are spotlighted in the various narratives. The points of similarity are numerous and skilfully developed; for instance, there’s a nice moment of synchronicity as 19th century Polly is about to enter a Victorian workhouse while Jem is more contemporaneously being marched into prison. Their lot is chillingly similar even down to the words which they choose to describe what is happening to them.
As the three episodes play out it becomes evident that some of the women in the modern sections are interconnected through the central story of struggling mother Cathy and her relationship with social worker Polly. A further thread that runs through these sections is Covid and the lockdowns; how could it not when the whole development of the piece has been affected and informed by these momentous events. One of the most poignant stories is that of Portuguese nurse, Ines and her work in an ICU. There is also a significant link between the five women from the earlier era despite the fact that they come from various geographical locations (in one case, Sweden) but to give away what this is would spoil the careful patterning which the writers and cast have put in place – so on that, I’ll hold my peace. Suffice to say that unless you are particularly familiar with a certain set of historical events you won’t see the connection coming – and it is this which makes the drama ultimately so chilling.
The cast of five (naturally) all play two main roles – one from each era – which serves as a further linking device. However, characters are delineated carefully enough to make the listener think that there is a rather larger cast so kudos to Bea Collett Bell, Lynne Davis, Arabella Hornby, Deborah Ross and Vyvian Shaw for the fine job they do in creating the various Victorian and more modern personas. There is some dulcet toned narration from Rosanna Preston and other members of Tower Theatre crop up in a variety of supporting roles. Colin Guthrie is responsible for the audio quality and design – and indeed some of the music along with Rosie Hayes, Kasia Sikora Black and Bea Collett Bell. He has done a first class job and the level of detail as we are switched from one age to another means that we always know where we are just through the sound context alone. As well as writing, Angharad Ormond also directs with her customary eye for detail and is to be congratulated for holding the project together and bringing it, finally, to completion. Whether you make a point of listening today or at ay other time you will certainly be richly rewarded with what has clearly been a labour of love.