In a world becoming simultaneously more liberal and more restrictive, conformity is a key issue. While great strides towards equality have been made, we are far from escaping common stereotypes and gender roles that are inaccurate and outdated. Manjeet Mann’s A Dangerous Woman confronts these issues in a well-written and tragic monologue based on her own life experiences.
As one of six women in the family, Mann struggles to maintain her own integrity when put under constant pressure by her parents and her five sisters. From career choices to relationships, nothing in her life is safe from scrutiny. From childhood through to the present day, Mann explores themes of racism, sexism, duty, and religion, as we watch her push to develop her own identity and become the woman she is today.
The writing on display is good, and Mann’s life never ceases to be melancholically captivating. Moments of humour are neatly threaded between the distressing scenarios presented to us, yet never detract from Mann’s honesty. The simplicity of the set complements this wonderfully. With only a white square in the centre of a black box space, we can literally see the box that Mann has figuratively trapped herself inside. As she leaves that box after the show it is clear the message she is sending us.
When performed, however, Mann’s writing loses some of its impact. While she is able to create many vivid scenes, some moments are lost when there is little distinction between characters; this can makes dialogue difficult to follow. Movement between scenes also appears aimless at times. Had director Yael Shavit given more direction here, the space could have been better utilised. That being said, Mann is definitely a talented performer, and she is more than capable of developing this piece further, to the point where it could be something astonishing.
Bizarrely my main criticism of the production would be the lighting. The house lights were left up throughout the performance, and the stage lights seemed to change at random. This, when accompanied by sudden jumps in time made it a little hard to establish where in time we were. Perhaps if there had been some more regularity to the design, it might have been easier to keep track of.
Plays like this are important in reminding us that we aren’t as progressive as we like to think. It is incredibly relevant today, and sadly I feel it will be relevant for many years to come. Mann’s story is both disheartening and motivational, and is one that many need to hear. Yet it is unfortunately likely that those that need to hear its message most aren’t sat eagerly listening in the front row, but are instead at home keeping their views unchallenged. We can only hope that stories like these are spread as far and wide as they can so that we can progress to a world that Mann, and all of us, deserve. ★★★☆☆ Jeremy Ulster 23rd September 2017