I showed one of my friends the Facebook Event description of Hypatia. I had just asked her to come and see the play with me, and my feeble description of, “It’s like a feminist play about a mathematician in Ancient Greece or something,” wasn’t really cutting it. After reading the event description, my friend said, “You go and see it and let me know if it is anything different to a ‘Remarkable woman excels at something and gets brutally punished for it,’”. I laughed and asked a different friend to see the play with me.
True to the event description, and my friend’s prediction, Hypatia is yet another story of a brilliant woman excelling in a male dominated field and being abused for it. Only instead of seeing this story in sitcoms or in Facebook support groups, we saw it play out in Ancient Greece, which makes me wonder at how slow change is. Hypatia was a brilliant educator and academic who, instead of being celebrated and respected, was murdered for her achievements under the guise of causing trouble in her town. This is a woman who understood the heliocentric view of the universe thousands of years before it was the status quo. She was a woman of reason who was a clear threat to the religion and power structures of Alexandria.
The play is intensely physical which is fascinating given the concept and the story was something quite intellectual. The dance, movement, and dialogue worked seamlessly together, though at times the dialogue felt like an introduction to feminist theory 101, but in other parts, there were some phenomenal one liners that should deck the hallowed halls of viral retweets or cute little picture frames you’d find at markets. “I’ll be for other women what you were for me,” and “It’s not enough to not be bad, to be good,” or, “Just convert! You don’t have to believe it,” and the classic, “How does she bleed like that and not die,” all had me either laughing or crying. But women dancing and physicalizing stories on stage is a net good, and a nice change from seductive dancing which is often the only other time we see women’s bodies take up space on a theatre stage. The play triumphed in the way it portrayed the incredible emotional intensity of the ‘boys club’. When the men of Alexandria were discussing what they would do to Hypatia, their relationship felt incredibly sexual and tense. These scenes were powerful, and also terrifying.
Hypatia is confronting, evocative and raw in all the right places. When it finished, my friend and I both agreed we wished our younger sisters were there to see it. That is the bar, I think, of a good play – if you wish you could watch it again but with more people, so you have more people to talk about it with afterwards. The play lives up to what it promises, and was entirely true to its event description, but the physicality and urgency of the performance brought the story of one woman, and in a way the stories of all women, powerfully alive. Everyone should go and see this play.
Words by Katie McAllister.
Hypatia is playing at the Blue Room until 7 October. Tickets available here.