Age of Arousal takes place during a time of great change; London, 1885, when the Suffragette movement is starting to take off during a period of repressed desires, where women hugely outnumber men and some must learn to embrace the life of a New Woman.
Should you see it?
Age of Arousal deals with the theme of technology as a liberator for women. In 1885, it was the typewriter. Before that, it was the spinning wheel. Today, it’s the age of computers. This connection is what makes Age of Arousal so timeless and resonant to a modern audience. It helps that an interesting theme is surrounded by excellent source material and near-perfect execution.
Age of Arousal centers on Mary, a former activist turned teacher, and her younger lover Rhoda, who run a school for secretaries. They take in the three Madden sisters as their students; Alice, a committed spinster, Victoria, a nervous drunk and Monica, a young woman bursting at the seams with sexuality. Complicating things even further is Everard Barfoot, a man re-establishing his way of thinking about women.
Linda Griffiths’ script has a Shakespeare-like lyrical and rhythmic quality that is very pleasing to the ear. The characters often speak directly to the audience, a neat device that allows us deeper into their minds. It’s also very fitting for an era known for its combination of sexual repression and social courtesy. The text is witty, smartly written and completely engrossing. I didn’t even want to leave for a 15-minute intermission!
This production features excellent performances from a terrifically talented cast. There’s an easy chemistry between Eleanor Crowder’s Mary and Rhoda, played by Lisa Jeans. Rachel Eugster, Anna Lewis and Tim Oberholzer also deserve a mention for their commitment to their characters. The highlight is Margo MacDonald’s Virginia. While all characters undergo tremendous changes, she goes through the most radical and ultimately the most compelling. At first, Virginia is comic relief, a neurotic drunk who wants to be so much more than her family thinks she can be. By the end of the show, she’s empowered, and her transformation left me breathless.
Patrice-Ann Forbes’ costumes are well chosen; Rhoda and Mary wear slightly masculine dresses while the Maddens are all in frills. In the second act, it’s clear which of them have embraced their new lifestyle based on costume changes alone. Diana Fajrajsl’s direction keeps the focus squarely where it should be, on the script and the performers.
Age of Arousal is thought provoking, discussion-starting, sexy, witty and entertaining. Combine an engaging script, strong performances from a talented cast, great staging and fantastic costuming and you have the best production I’ve seen so far this year. It’s a must-see if you’re a feminist, a fan of Victorian England or just a lover of smart theatre.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to hear what you have to say. Were you as enchanted as I was by Age of Arousal? Let me know in the comments below!