BROKEN WINDOWS at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Broken Windows crop

Caitlin Moran argues in her memoir How To Be A Woman, that feminists would be well advised to adopt the ‘broken windows’ theory (fix the little problems quick so the bigger ones don’t get started). The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime. Similarly she argues, women should take a zero tolerance policy towards everyday abuses, including degrading remarks about their appearance or weight, attitudes about bodily hair etc. Moran suggests that women should counter the bullshit and disconnect of being a modern woman not by shouting at it, but by laughing at it, pointing at it and going “Ha!”

Cue the start of Caitlin Ince’s new play Broken Windows. Standing before us on the tiny Wardrobe Theatre stage, the smiling playwright is ready to sweep us, like Dickens’ ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, past snapshots of young female lives in the making. Based on a series of recorded interviews with Florence, Antonia, Sophie, Danielle and Rosie from across the UK, Ince presents us with a series of mini sketches, geological cross-sections of female teenage angst. What is this next generation of women thinking and worrying about? Because that’s where the broken windows hang. These young people are vulnerable. And the sexually obsessed media, advertising and music industries are lying in wait for them.

Ince cleverly waves Moran’s ‘fifth wave’ feminist banner aloft, but also takes her advice to do it with a smile on her face. Ince holds up these girls’ lives like a mirror to life’s everyday oppressions. If the girls can only be savvy enough to see through the nonsense around them, they can render it impotent, and the ‘windows’ will be mended.

Ince acts as all the girls in the piece with great self assurance, and is supported throughout by excellent fellow Oxford School of Drama graduate Owen Jenkins, who plays sister and mother, as well as supplying other voices, most notably a hilarious welcome aboard megabus announcement. The piece is also autobiographical, but Ince’s own voice in the piece is spoken by musician and composer Matthew White who accompanies her throughout the play on songs that pick up on the themes of the girls’ concerns.

I once heard that reviews at the Wardrobe could only ever attract a maximum of three stars. Well, here are four for a change! Caitlin Ince is a very engaging actress with huge potential to make a name for herself. She also has some great ideas, and this production should be offered a run. Tobacco Factory, Everyman Theatre, Theatre Royal, what are you waiting for? The Wardrobe has acted as star-maker, seize the moment to add to the trajectory.   ★★★★☆   Simon Bishop     18/10/14