Jealous of Herself is a five star performance that ends the term on a high.
The audience walks in to face the traverse stage, innovatively fashioned so that the audience is situated on the either side of the stage, with the performance in between. This aptly captures the essence of the play, the boundaries of the binary; the male and female, desire and reality, tragedy and comedy. Jealous of Herself, in its first English adaptation of a 17th century Spanish play, presents the bittersweet nature of ideals wrapped up in farcical hilarity.
The play is centred around Don Melchor’s (played by Finlay Stroud) fetishized adoration of a hand, belonging to a mysteriously veiled ‘Countess’ onto whom Melchor projects an idealized list of superlatives. Her hand is a swan, a pearl, snow, and groves of perfumed flowers. However, the same hand, when attached to the body of Magdalena (Rebecca Hamilton), his fiancée, becomes ‘ugly’. Magdalena, at once the ‘Countess’ and herself, must torment herself with self-jealousy as her hand is rendered a screen for all of Melchor’s idealisations and desires.
The cast is consistently strong in maintaining the vibrant, comedic tone of the play, which is remarkable given the trickiness of the play’s dense wordplay and Spanish context. Joe Peden, as the savvy servant Ventura, plays the deadpan snarker with an impressive attention to detail, while Rebecca Hamilton excellently brings to life a conflicted, independent and nuanced heroine whose character is truly rare given the play’s era. The ensemble, consisting of Alice Boyd, Anushka Chakravarti, Cara Pacitti, Ell Potter and James Tibbles, brought forth mesmerizing and thought-provoking segments that amplified the poignancy of Alice Boyd’s composition and Emmy Everest-Philips’ choreography. Overall, the balance of tension was remarkably well-executed. The contrast between the highly-stylized comedic sequences and somberly striking ensemble maintained the play’s atmosphere to just the right level of comedy with flickers of biting ambiguity; all the while drawing towards its superbly stirring ending.
The staging played effectively with the dynamic of the 17th century theatre going experience, in which men and women were strictly segregated, by putting on the neon signs indicating ‘gents’ and ‘ladies’. As the audience sat mixed under these signs, the visual contrast under the binary labels posed interesting questions about the evolvement of gender concepts. Another effective tool was the screen stretched out on one end of the stage, portraying shadows of various female characters that are all regardes as ‘the Countess’. The screen’s elongated, yet alluring, portrayal of female shadows visually captures Melchor’s vague, silhouetted ideals of the feminine in its essence.
Melchor’s fixation upon the eyes and the hands of the Countess is unfailingly hilarious throughout the play, as these scenes reveal his blind idealizations. However, the tropes are subtly and consistently played with darker undertones. As Melchor confuses an eye for another eye, a hand for another hand, accelerating into love triangles that entangle in a literal confusion of bodies, the play questions if we ourselves are not the victims of the same illusions. This production guarantees laughter throughout its 90-minute long performance, but also leads us, by the end of it, to face the source of the laughter, wondering if our own eyes have been truly de-veiled.