The Adelaide Festival
The Space
Until 11 Mar 2019

Review by Anthony Vawser

If nothing else, “The Second Woman” is a theatrical experiment of breathtaking audacity. One performance, 24 hours in duration, comprising a cycle of variations – 100 of them, according to publicity – on the same ten-minute scenario, featuring the same woman – Nat Randall – in all of them, but a different man every time (all apparently unknown to Randall).

The very nature of this presentation makes it more of a challenge to usefully review than a more ‘typical’ piece of theatre would be. “The Second Woman” is closer to an art installation than a play. We watch for as long as we are able to, or as long as we wish to, until we are beckoned away by other daily duties (such as attending another entry in Adelaide’s Mad March sweepstakes, or simply going home to sleep – both of which applied to this reviewer).

Can such an unusual format succeed in fully communicating its impact to a typical audience member who, for practical purposes, will simply be unable to endure a continuous 24-hours of theatre? Do the insights that can potentially be gleaned from this show justify the outlay of effort necessary to stage such an extraordinary venture, one that pushes its central figure’s endurance to the limit but whose season is as short as can be? Neither of these questions can easily be answered – which, in itself, indicates the level of challenge that this piece sets for us.

As a witness to this landmark event who was able to glimpse (approximately) the first five men in the program as well as the last seven-or-eight, this reviewer can attest that there were definitely a number of noticeable differences that generated undeniable interest and intrigue, though the 22-hour gap between visits did not quite result in the kind of outright changes or ‘developments’ that might have been predicted. Perhaps this means that Randall & collaborator/writer/director Anna Breckon are to be commended not just on the level of endurance but also consistency.

There a level of electricity here that is born from the awareness of the stage as a potential danger zone, as well as the ultimate unpredictability of each scenario’s outcome: will the man stick to the script and behave himself? Will the inevitable fatigue factor put Randall in a position of vulnerability or even danger? Will this show really go on for all 24 of its projected hours…?

This reviewer has to be grateful for the opportunity, and the honour, to witness such bravery taking place in his home town, especially since the consensus appears to be that “The Second Woman” may not ever see another staging. Here’s hoping it can at least encourage similar levels of risk-taking in future theatrical endeavours.