Tuesday, July 16

What (is) a Woman – Arcola Theatre

Set across four decades, the one-woman play tells the one woman’s story of sex, love and identity as she matures from schoolgirl to woman. From critically acclaimed West End and TV actress Andrée Bernard, best known for her roles in Holby CityHollyoaks and Kiss Me, Kate, the piece is written, composed and performed by Andree herself, directed by Michael Strassen and asks the question of what it means to be a woman of the Modern Age. 

Bernard expertly commands the stage from start to finish, the audience were enthralled as she encapsulates the various characters in the story, from wide-eyed university student to an overbearing Drama teacher, she does a brilliant job of quickly adopting these characters, showing her versatility.

Bernard playing her character’s showbiz agent certainly stole the show and earned plenty of laughs from the audience. She had all the little movements down perfectly, heaving his cigarette as he offers unhelpful advice and auditions in tampon adverts. Another highlight was seeing Bernard as the female lead and the various male characters in the dating scenes, which were both hilarious and tragic. I’m sure many women can relate to the struggles of dating which Bernard perfectly encapsulates, particularly first date anxiety in one song which was a real crowd pleaser. Bernard’s male impressions felt pretty spot on, and rather akin to many women’s experiences of dating in the 21st century, especially in this social media-driven world. 

Despite the light-hearted moments of comic relief, this show is not all laughs and giggles, we see the character go through difficult and gut-wrenching moments too from breakups to struggles with infertility (which Bernard masterfully deals with in a very sensitive manner). Through Bernard’s characterisation, you feel this woman’s vulnerability throughout the stages of her life.

The set was kept simple, a black stage framed by a black curtain, with Bernard dressed in a nude dress and heels, this blank canvas made the show feel even more intimate, allowing Bernard to really flourish, set the scene and fully get into character. 

At times because of the frequent character switching, it was a little difficult to follow the period in which each scene was in, especially when some periods were progressed through song. I enjoyed but some moments may have been more impactful with more dialogue instead. 

The songs that accompanied the dialogue were paired with choreography courtesy of Lucie Pankhurst, reminiscent of the Vaudeville style of the 1950s which, although a bold choice, worked well for the style of music and was enjoyable to watch. Seeing Bernard happily shuffle across the stage singing about men and her struggles was an interesting experience. 

Another mention must go to Jess Martin on the Bass and Musical Director Daniel Looseley on the keyboard. They both played their parts perfectly, driving the scenes onwards and setting the tone for the more poignant moments.

Overall, What (Is) a Woman does an admirable job of exploring the highs and lows of navigating womanhood, with plenty of laughs, tears and colourful characters along the way, however at times, the narrative of the story was a little unclear, Bernard was certainly enjoyable to watch.

What (is) a Woman is currently playing at the Arcola Theatre until 4th May, you can find out more HERE.

Reviewer: Gemma Prince

Reviewed: 24th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.