The four women played by Linda Marlowe in Believe, which opened tonight at the New End Theatre, would appear, from a simple description of their fates, to all be victims. Rahab is a prostitute who chooses to harbour spies who will assist in the destruction of her city; Bathsheba, seduced by her husband's commander, is forced to watch him sent to his death; Judith might have killed Holofernes, but she can do so only after sleeping with him; Hannah sees her seven sons slain before her.
They have fallen victim to men's wars, men's violence; that this is a comment on the age in which we live now is clearly obvious. But they are victims of circumstance, not victims at heart – when given the space on director Gavin Marshall's sparse, spare stage they're raging, stomping, deadly furies, determined to wreak vengeance on not just the men who've harmed them, but the whole of malekind. They've been raped, abused, twisted, racked, by the patriarchal society of the Old Testament, and they aren't going to rest until male blood has been spilled, male bodies defiled.
Linda Marlowe's Judith will stick in my mind just as vividly Artemisia Gentileschi's – she takes from writer Matthew Hurt vivid, unforgettable, unforgiving lines and delivers them with passionate venom. She takes her "seven steps" to Holofernes' vulnerable, drunken neck through his army, "a field of erect pricks", and holds her knife in one hand and his prick in the other – ensuring that her victory over him is total.
Marlowe, best known for her work with Steven Berkoff, is an intense, physical, lyrical stage presence; each of her four characters distinct in every word, stride, and gesture. Her Bathsheba is both uprightly correct and clearly insane, her Rahab the oddly vulnerable adult child-whore who'll drop her clothes and her guard with equal alacrity, her Hannah a picture of heartfelt religious intoxication.
Beware — this isn't a show for the faint-hearted. One member of the opening night audience was clearly overcome by "Hannah's" blow-by-blow description of the hideous deaths of her sons. Some males in the front row were leaning back so far they must have reshaped their spines.
But if you're a woman, go and see this show — it will remind you of how your foremothers have suffered through the ages, and how they endured. And in its bitter, satiric humour, you'll find to bring forth a tear of recognition.
If you're a man with a guilty conscience about how you've treated a woman in the past, you too should go to see it — the nightmares should be good for your soul. If you're a man whose hands are clean, well, I'll let you off.
Believe continues at the New End Theatre until February 2, with performances Tuesday to Saturday at 9pm, Sunday and Monday at 7:30pm.