The Second Woman

Theatre, Performance art
The Second Woman
Photograph: Supplied The Second Woman

Nat Randall brings her break-out hit of Dark Mofo to Sydney, for the Liveworks festival at Carriageworks

This 24-hour endurance work by Sydney performer Nat Randall (a member of queer collective Hissy Fit and co-presenter of FBi Radio’s Canvas) became a cult hit of Dark Mofo. The word spread by mouth and by Instagram and Facebook: head to Peacock Theatre, something amazing is happening. First performed at Next Wave Festival in 2016, The Second Woman sees Randall repeat a short scene on a loop, for 24 hours (from 3pm on Saturday June 17 to 3pm the following afternoon). Running at about 13 minutes, the scene involves a woman (Randall) who is visited by a man (played by a different man each time, all chosen from a casting call-out) called Marty, who is obviously her lover, or has been. Dialogue is exchanged (her lines are the same each time; the men have the same set lines, which also include small spaces for improvisation). The dialogue largely concerns his perception of her.  

The scene is taken from (or more accurately, inspired by) John Cassavetes’ 1977 film Opening Night, which is about an actress (played by Cassavetes’ wife, Gena Rowlands) who has a breakdown while preparing for the New York opening of a play called The Second Woman (which is in turn about woman who is confronted by her aging, and the concomitant loss of visibility and even ‘personhood’). Like Cassavetes’ film, Randall’s show explores the experience of being a woman and an actress, and uses camera close-ups to powerful effect. Unlike the film, which was written, directed and produced by men, this fusion of live art, theatre and film uses a two-woman camera crew to capture the protagonist’s encounters with each male visitor (in fact the whole creative team and crew are women). And as a theatre work, it is the audience gaze that is central. We become obsessive voyeurs, closely reading each encounter for alterations in her delivery, and for different vocal inflections and performance choices made by each male performer. We worried about her; we judged them. People (myself included) sat in The Second Woman for hours at a time, and upon leaving they could be heard saying “we have to come back.”  

At the end, Randall emerged for her curtain call as an almost heroic figure: stoically enduring the male gaze (and touch) and the audience gaze while forging and reforging the so-called ‘second sex’ into an indomitable being.

This review was originally published as part of Time Out's Dark Mofo coverage.

The Second Woman will run for 24 hours from 6pm October 20 to 6pm October 21 at Carriageworks as part of Performance Space's Liveworks festival. Tickets will be $15 and available on the door only. Your ticket comes with a wristband that allows you to enter and exit the theatre as you wish over the 24 hours – depending on whether the theatre is at full capacity.

By: Dee Jefferson

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