EdFringe 2022 Review: The Actress

Long Lane Theatre Company bring The Actress to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s Underbelly, shedding light on the overlooked story of the first professional actress on the British stage, Anne Marshall. Written and directed by Andrew Pearson-Wright, The Actress refreshing pays tribute to the strength of the female voice, whilst celebrating two strong women who were not afraid to push the boundaries of their time.

The year is 1660 and King Charles II has reopened theatres with speculation rife that like in France, actresses will soon be taking the stage for the first time. Talented Anne Marshall (Charlotte Price) auditions for a role in The King’s Company but faces competition from vivacious fellow competitor Margaret Hughes (Eve Pearson-Wright). As both women gain roles within the company, Margaret’s fame and success begins to eclipse that of her talented thespian rival.

Andrew Pearson-Wright crafts a tale that celebrates two female trailblazers in the world of theatre: Anne Marshall who comes from nothing with her eyes set on achieving her theatrical dreams and Margaret Hughes, well travelled with a harder shell dreaming of fame and fortune. Both women are fighting opposition from within the patriarchal confines of which they operate – all roles are predominantly played by men, with the threat of actresses triggering talk of scandal, outrage and theatrical closures. Yet actresses Price and Pearson-Wright capture the plucky determination of both women – facing an uphill battle that their misogynistic male co-stars seek to make more challenging. This sexism is only heightened by the revelation that the best way to draw male patrons into the theatre is by providing peep shows from first Margaret and then reluctantly Anne’s dressing rooms.

The Actress successfully presents a reframing of history with the stories of Hughes and Marshall put to the forefront – and whilst there is a steely tension between both women fighting for roles within The King’s Company – an underlying wave of solidarity is shared with the actresses supporting one another in various ways: Marshall giving Hughes an insight into the psyche of the female characters in the texts, Hughes encouraging Marshall to fight against the oppressive attitudes of her male colleagues. Marshall’s male co-star shares that it is the men who decide which women will be remembered as a means of sexual and psychological manipulation yet The Actress presents both actresses as defining presences within their field.

Andrew Pearson-Wright’s direction utilises the theatrical setting to utmost effect with performers walking the aisles and actors using seats and immersing themselves within the audience’s space. Utilising impressive sound design, staging, and costumery further transports us to the rich period setting of 17th Century London.

The Actress captures the stories of two polarising female trailblazers of the stage. Shedding light on the story of the often disregarded but talented Anne Marshall, yet celebrating the fight and gumption of Margaret Hughes makes for a sharp theatrical piece with a rich feminist voice.

The Actress runs until August 29th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Get your tickets here.

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