On the 7th of September I had the privilege of being taken as a guest on press night to see A Room of One’s Own at the Malting’s Theatre in St Albans, written by Elton Townend-Jones (Director) and Rebecca Vaughan (Performer) and produced by Dyad Productions.
This was an hour-long, one-woman show, derived from Virginia Woolf’s 1928 exploration of women, poverty, literature and art throughout history. I’ll admit now – I went in blind. I knew nothing of the show, the company or the writers so I had no expectations to be wowed. But this show did so much more than wow. It silenced me entirely.
From the outset, Vaughan gripped us with her charm and confidence. As an audience we knew that we were in safe hands and that we'd understand this story being told to us – despite the slightly more old-fashioned language being used.
Within the first five minutes an audience member decided the show was not for them and rather noisily upped and left – and then proceeded to cause a commotion in the corridor outside the theatre. While this gathered the attention of many of the members of the audience, it didn’t take us long to be sucked back in.
Vaughan didn’t miss a single beat. Neither the noise nor our distraction fazed her in the slightest, and there wasn’t a crack to be seen in her performance. So, kudos to her for recapturing us so gracefully and naturally – it’s a skill many wish they could master.
It's hard to formulate exactly what I thought of this show, purely because it's the first time I have walked away from a piece of theatre feeling like it has actually changed me – or rather, woken me up.
Woolf’s dramatized exploration of how few women there are in art throughout history was almost like a sad song, before morphing into a call to arms. Hearing out loud, in such an eloquent way, that women are all but non-existent in the history books – unless spoken about in relation to men – was utterly heart-breaking.
The silence in the auditorium was palpable as every single one of us realised the gravity of what we were being told. For centuries women were possessions – objects of intrigue and fascination – not people with the ability to feel and create and destroy as they saw fit.
Despite the sadness of this initial message, there was no sadness in the character of Virginia Woolf on stage before us. The most fitting term would be a fire in her belly. Vaughan could have chosen to be melancholic, she could have mourned all of the lost work of these women but she didn’t. Instead, she kept us moving forward, and excited for the conclusions she was going to draw.
She quickly established the connection between creative freedom and financial security, and therefore established that because women were not financially independent, they could not be creatively free. This revelation turned the mirror on us as the audience. The first thought in my head was "how privileged I am to be in a position where I can create". This related directly to something repeated through the whole show – "all you need is £500 a year and a room of one’s own". (I may be paraphrasing but the sentiment remains).
Freedom to create
One of the main points raised in the show was that despite many artists distaste for material things and money – every artist needs those material things and money to be able to be truly creative and free. And despite the feminist-leaning nature of the show, this is a non-gendered sentiment. It became something to really reflect on – how many glorious stories are going untold because the authors do not have the means to explore that side of themselves? How many songs not sung? How many paintings not painted? How many stages empty of performers?
My favourite part of the show was when the idea of Shakespeare’s fictional sister was introduced, named Judith. She had all the same natural born talents and inclinations as him but, as a woman in the 1500s, was not afforded the same privileges as he was. Forced to live out her life as a housewife, she became sad and eventually took her own life – only memorialised on her tombstone as someone else's wife.
The final build of the show centred around the resurrection of Judith Shakespeare, and how female-identifying writers today can honour her memory by doing the things that she couldn’t do. Vaughan presented this in such a way that it truly felt like a call to arms, and I personally felt a great sense of responsibility fall onto my shoulders.
Even if we do not become the greatest writers that ever lived, as women and female-identifying people, we have a duty to honour those that had their voices silenced before us. And this isn’t about going out and protesting in the streets; it's about being authentic and independent and creative. Allowing ourselves to channel the spirits of the huge sisterhood of creative women over the centuries and creating our own art.
I think one of the most poignant things about this show that will forever stay with me was the quiet reflectiveness with which we left the theatre. Although Vaughan had rallied us to be the people that we dream of being, there was also the lingering knowledge of women being used as toys in literature and a means to ensure the creation of more men.
Due to the nature of the show the audience was about 95% female. My partner was one of the only men there and one of the things he said to me as we left made me realise how important this piece of theatre actually was.
He was very quiet as we left which initially led me to thinking he hadn’t enjoyed it, but he informed me that he was trying to formulate into words how he was feeling. He said to me that it had made him realise how badly he himself had been writing women and how he still had plenty of blind spots to navigate when it came to his writing.
I’ve spoken a lot about the thoughts and feelings that this show conjured in me, and I think that is a massive credit to the show itself, and in particular to Rebecca Vaughan. The story was so engaging, and Vaughan was exciting to watch, she had such a strong charisma and charm and was so easy to understand.
Honestly I have to say this is by far the best one-person show I have ever seen and the sense of passion and understanding that I left it with was utterly unparalleled.
FlairBox Reviewer Sarah Jane Fineux is a recent East 15 Acting School Graduate. She has written three short films; one already produced and two in pre-production stages. She comes from a small village in Northumberland and has always wanted to perform and create. As the resident Geordie in her year she had a reputation of not taking any nonsense and thus was awarded the "tough as old boots" award at her graduation.