Women Alone

Premiere 26 September, 1989
Venue U2 Universal Theatre, Fitzroy
Handspan Women Alone explodes the myths surrounding women in a patriarchal society. Using puppetry, inanimate objects and song in short solo works, three women rewrite history from the feminine point of view.

Adele Ferguson, The Advertiser, Adelaide, 13 March, 1990

WOMEN ALONE was a collection of vignette acts devised and performed by Handspan woman members.

Participation in a creative development project was offered to four Handspan artists based on their proposals submitted to Executive Artistic Director, Trina Parker. It transpired that the concepts selected were all from women members and thus the idea to package the works as a 'women's' project was born.

The pieces were devised for table top performance, presented by visible puppeteers who animated their objects and interacted directly with them. Company members had been inspired to explore this staging style, common in European object theatre, since 1980 influenced by their participation in international puppet festivals. The work of French puppeteer, Jacques Templero in particular stimulated WOMEN ALONE and initially, there had been some discussion of inviting him to work with the company to develop the works. His availability to spend several weeks in Melbourne could not be confirmed and the project went ahead without his input.

In the end only three of the vignettes were developed to showcase, and these premiered in a double bill with No Right Angles in Paradise for the Melbourne Spoleto Fringe Festival in 1989, followed by an Adelaide Fringe Festival season in 1990. In Adelaide, when segments from Moments were included in the work. Only Katy Bowman and Michele Spooner's pieces were available to tour to the UNIMA Congress in Ljublijana in 1992. Michele revived her vignette The Immaculate Contraption for a performance at the 3rd International Women Playwright's Conference in Adelaide in 1994.

WOMEN ALONE included:

Listening for the Heartbeat
Annie Wylie with Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, a banana.

This piece, devised by Annie Wylie was an original, unaccompanied song cycle performed in three segments - Red Riding Hood, Invitation and I Sometimes Feel So Empty.

Program notes explained that the songs described:

The cycle of a woman's life - from sexual innocence to knowing-ness, and finally to self appreciation and acceptance.

Program: U2, Melbourne, 1989

Each song was performed by Annie as she operated simple and comic pop up scenes on her table-top which were played as interludes between the other acts in the production.

The first piece turns the story of Red Riding Hood upside down with the chaste Red Riding Hood having sex with the wolf because she chooses to.

Adele Ferguson, The Advertiser, Adelaide, 13 March, 1990

... she survives the supposedly traumatic encounter with Granny and goes on her way wiser and undamaged

Veronica Kelly, Antnews, Melbourne April, 1990
The Immaculate Contraption
Michele Spooner with the egg undergoing invitrofertilisation

Michele Spooner devised The Immaculate Contraption which showed the journey of an egg trying to be fertilised across three eras

It goes through nature period, a religious period and ends up in a technological period where it achieves fertilisation through a weird IVF program. All are periods of worship and it come out of me asking 'why do women think that it is so important to get pregnant?'

Michele Spooner: Interview with Fiona Scott-Norman, Melbourne, 1989

In an optimistic outcome the egg produces an equine mutant and embraces it.

Veronica Kelly, AntNews, Melbourne April, 1990

Spooner's delightful and barbed puppet show introduces the egg and turns it into not just a symbol of fertility, but also of control. She plays both magician and puppeteer, producing eggs by sleight of hand and surprising us with their contents as each meets the fate of all eggs, and opens. The ending is full of ambiguity but one thing is certain for the outcome, or offspring in this case: the dumbcluck parent will love them anyway.

Tim Lloyd, The Advertiser, Adelaide 1994

The Therapeutist

cupboard, worn by puppeteer, with open doors showing small objects inside topped by a straw hat

Photographs: © Ponch Hawkes 1989

(Click photos to enlarge)

Katy Bowman brought her independently created production, inspired by Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte's work, Le Therapeute, to Handspan for presentation as part of WOMEN ALONE.

The work was developed with Ariette Taylor and like Ariette's production, Four Little Girls, aimed to bring the painting to life at the same time as revealing the inner world of the character represented by the image.

The work tackles the plights of women through the image of the padlocked female body.

Adele Ferguson, The Advertiser, Adelaide, 13 March, 1990

Katy Bowman uses herself as part of an animated Magritte painting, unlocking doors and drawers, exploring further into her body/being to uncover its fears and treasures. There can be no ultimate disclosure, just an unfolding series of transformations as the journey into femaleness and self-hood progresses.

Veronica Kelly, AntNews, Melbourne April, 1990

It started with an image and unfolds to become a body filled with objects. Conceptually it took me until the end for me to figure out just what this one was about - it was though, a brilliant piece of puppetry.

Juanita Greville, Shepparton News, 7 June, 1990

WOMEN ALONE was well received by both audiences and critics:

The season that closes Spoleto Fringe at the Universal 2 is a lamentably short run of four new, shortish, objected-based pieces by some of Handspan's women artists although it includes a fascinating work by the company's former designer Ken Evans, the general tile Handspan Women Alone sums the night up well. It is an exploration of the ways in which various women come to grips with loneliness (or just being at home as one piece has it); all four pieces are lovely to look at and they complement the rest of the work in the festival superbly. Women Alone brings to a close the first Spoleto festival to convince me that it's worth staying in Melbourne in September.

Geoffrey Milne, The Herald, Melbourne, 29 September, 1989

The sell-out showcase season in fact, saw it extended for a further week after its Fringe dates.

At the Adelaide Festival Fringe a few months later, the production was awarded 4 Stars by The Advertiser critic, Adele Ferguson, and won the paper's weekly Fringe Award for Excellence. Anthill Theatre's newsletter in Melbourne summarised the Adelaide Fringe Festival in its Festival Fulminations noting that:

The women of Handspan Theatre present images of femaleness in their Women Alone show. We could be in a totally other world - perhaps we are. Physicality and wit are now used exclusively, pushing at the edges of the unsaid and unsayable in visual imagery rich with promise rather than threat.

Veronica Kelly, AntNews, Melbourne April, 1990

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Creative team
Listening to the Heartbeat
Devised by Annie Wylie
Designed & directed Ken Evans
Dramaturg Gilly Farrelly
The Immaculate Contraption
Devised & designed Michele Spooner
The Therapeutist
Devised & designed by Katy Bowman
Directorial assistance Ariette Taylor
Lighting Design Philip Lethlean
Listening to the Heartbeat Annie Wylie
The Immaculate Contraption Michele Spooner
The Therapeutist Katy Bowman
Production team
Lighting operator Philip Lethlean
Sound operator Ken Evans
Directorial assistance Avril McQueen, Trina Parker and Andrea Lemon
26 - 30 September 1989 U2, Universal Theatre, Fitzroy, Spoleto Fringe Festival, Melbourne
5 - 8 October 1989 Extended season: U2, Universal Theatre, Fitzroy, Spoleto Fringe Festival, Melbourne
12 - 18 March, 1990 Lion Theatre, Living Arts Centre, Adelaide Fringe Festival
North Shepparton Secondary College, Goulburn Valley Community Music Autumn Series, Victoria
14 - 19 June, 1992 16th UNIMA Congress, Ljublijana, Slovenia
4 July, 1994 Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, 3rd International Women Playwrights Conference
Total performances 26
Total audiences 700 (excluding 1992)

Scroll back to Click Tab: The Production