Jasango Theatre presents 'Bombshells'. Photo: Lisa Daly

Jasango Theatre presents 'Bombshells'. Photo: Lisa Daly

Jasango Theatre presents 'Bombshells'. Photo: Lisa Daly

Jasango Theatre presents 'Bombshells'. Photo: Lisa Daly

The Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith has built a successful career examining the nuances of contemporary life, particularly those surrounding relationships, love and the struggle to communicate. Her work, replete with big themes, transcends borders: it has made the leap from Australia to the British stage and now to these shores, with a comedy that shines the spotlight on modern womanhood, staged by new Irish company Jasango Theatre.

Despite her commercial and critical success, however, Murray-Smith’s work has also come in for attack. Germaine Greer famously dismissed her satirical take on feminism, The Female of the Species, as the work of an "insane reactionary" who "holds feminism in contempt". Others have held her to account for skating across the surface of issues, rather than seeking to create a debate about them. In particular, Australian critic Alison Croggon has written that there’s nothing in Murray-Smith’s output that “actually questions popularly held conservative beliefs about how the world is.”

Croggon’s general concerns can be applied more specifically to this production, which has been adapted by Jasango to operate as a mirror on contemporary Irish womanhood. The show is structured as a series of four monologues, delivered in sequence by Angela Ryan and Jasmin Finn, who play a frazzled mother, a panicked bride, a desperate teenage wanna-be and a buttoned-up widow. Jasango locates us in this country primarily through accent and geography, rather than anything necessarily relevant within an Irish context, and the production takes its starting point instead from Murray-Smith’s own observation that “where once women went mad suppressing their ambitions or dreams, they now drive themselves mad trying to fulfill them all simultaneously…humour, in the end, is our saviour.”

But humour, in the end, is not enough to save this show from becoming more than a largely two-dimensional, cliché-ridden treatise on how women live today. What Murray-Smith says is superficially true, no doubt, but her analysis of same brings nothing new to the table, nothing that has not already been touted in countless newspaper articles, on TV shows such as Desperate Housewives, and on stage with productions such as the funny, but equally two-dimensional Mum’s the Word. Meanwhile, surely it is the job of good theatre – of good art – to go behind the easy headlines and encourage real discussion?


In the play, the Mother – three childen, stay-at-home – obsesses all day about not matching up as a wife, a lover, a person, and most of all, a parent, running rings around herself until she flops exhausted onto the chair. The Bride – who has dreamt of this moment from the moment she could talk – begins to question her choice of groom: did her need to get married blind her to his obvious inadequacies? The Teenager is little more than a caricature of many who appear at X-Factor auditions (and we see enough of those there), and it is only the Widow who offers anything close to a portrait of a recognisable human being, with enough complexities and desires to begin a debate about how society views older women, and how they see themselves. The idea, on the other hand, that every woman dreams of white weddings, or that every mother is paralysed by insecurities and comparisons (question: just why does such a woman choose to have three children?) does a disservice to the varied, complex, un-stereotypical lives being lived by modern women – and modern Irish women – today.

To be fair, perhaps Murray-Smith is intent on providing us with exaggerated views of how we see ourselves, in order that we might choose to take stock for a moment. But Jasango’s production – despite a relatively restrained performance from Finn, in particular – lacks nuance and subtlety, offering little that would exhort an audience to question what is likely an already established world view, asking only that we have a good laugh, and go home to bed, secure in the knowledge that everything will go on just as it has always done before.

Rachel Andrews is an arts journalist and critic based in Cork

  • Review
  • Theatre

Bombshells by Joanna Murray-Smith

22 January - 14 August 2010; on tour

Produced by Jasango Theatre
In Firkin Crane, Cork

Directed by George B. Miller

Lighting Design: Patrick O'Reilly

Music: Go Away Birds

Visual Art: Sueanne O'Halloran

With: Angela Ryan and Jasmin Finn

Bombshells will run at Fota House, Cork from Tues 13 July to Sat 14 August, 2010. See: