Gillian English packs a punch as defamed English queen, Margaret of Anjou, in deconstructed feminist outing, She Wolf. This lady knows her Shakespeare and reinterprets the wrongful depictions Bill landed this woman with with attack and wit. A skilled Shakespearean actor, our 21st century performer dices things both ways, chatting us up with frank pub-like talk, reciting Shakespeare in high dramatic style, then debunks the inherent biases in his texts as feminist assassin.
Famed for her no holds barred audaciousness, English waltzes into forbidden realms, destroying stereotypes in her path. Margaret of England is not the first significant female in history to have fiction tell her story, not truth, and Gillian is here to makeover and rewrite hers. Downing a bottle of wine while she regales us, her stage is set with a folder marked Shit Shakespeare Put In My Mouth before she even enters (this is later thrown down when she puts the bullshit on the floor where it belongs). Clad in a luxuriant medieval assemblage capped by 2D golden crown headpiece, this lady looks pretty-as-pie but, like the historical figure she depicts, she has confident ‘balls’!
A mixture of personal backstory and a reply to history, English’s recites some of Margaret’s famous fictionalised speeches crafted into what are known as the saga-like history plays, Will’s rarely performed Henriad from early in his career, bringing him his first taste of stage writing fame. He keeps her alive from his Henry VI (Parts 1-3) into Richard III, declaiming How ill-beseeming is it in thy sex/ To triumph like an Amazonian trull.
English’s delivery is bold with a flagrant flaunting of convention. She has a way with words, moving from the conversational, to slang, to literate academic analysis in split seconds. She confidently veers off set text to mouth off about women’s supposed penis envy (not), and how anger get things done. With killer punchlines like I didnt Yoko Ono England!, she packs a punch and doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths such as why men inscribe women’s histories instead of letting us do it ourselves, or at least, recording it objectively.
This exciting take on truth gives us both dramatic and historical research. Detailing Anjou’s empowered maternal forbears and her royal connections (her cousin was King Louis XI of France), this lady was unused to playing second fiddle and, due to her husband’s declining mental faculties, required such skills. She signed her many letters ‘By A Quene’. Married off as a child bride (age 15) in 1445 to settle the French-English 100 years war, she later infamously ruled over the English Wars of the Roses, another century-long saga killing even her only child (a son), swapping allegiances with a magisterial aplomb only someone accustomed to real rulership evinced. English’s take on her career is that only though producing a male heir could Margaret enjoy anything close to the power men wielded within dynastic empire. No matter which way she played it, she was both female and French, something the men behind English power despised. Essentially trapped inside a boys’ club, Margaret is depicted as a bestial wolf by Shakespeare because she exercises power – as men do.
English as stage presence is unforgettable. In reviving Margaret for an hour, her life is made important to us. Why don’t we hear history through women’s voices? This obscene silencing compels us to turn over some bones and dig through the cultural artefacts we are taught to hold high and interrogate their version of events, which this performer does with a wry smile and compelling artistry.
Appealing, strong, intelligent, artful, with great audience interaction skills, English appears at the zenith of her art. She takes the big guns on and leaves us laughing as she chips away at false idols. I love whatever this lady challenges us to rethink.
Love history? Storytelling?…strong women you didn’t know about? See two such presented here.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
She Wolf shows 18- 24 September, 7pm, Monday- Sunday (60 mins) at The Butterfly Club Upstairs. Book tickets here. The venue is not accessible.
Warning: Contains coarse language, adult themes, references to war.
Click here for What’s On for the full Melbourne Fringe 2017 program, 14 September – 1 October.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Melbourne Fringe.
Image credit: Gillian English.