“What did your father do?”
With a set-up that reads like a Shakespearean version of the Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman joke, Whit Hertford’s new play DÓTTIR takes an interesting spin through the Bard’s knotty relationship with gender. So Ophelia, Desdemona, Jessica, Cordelia, Lavinia, and Kate the Curst wake up in a room from which Miranda has just fled and the Jailer’s Daughter has just been placed. But it’s far from a joke, they’re all handcuffed and anonymised in monochrome utilitywear and balaclavas. And when a piercing siren sounds, we bear witness to the extent to which they fear their unseen captor.
One by one, they detail the faults ascribed to them in their respective plays (Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest and Two Noble Kinsmen, in case you weren’t sure), as told them by men. But Hertford then does is to delve deeper into each woman and her circumstances, building up backstory and fleshing out detail, giving each character their due. This is done to varying degrees of effectiveness but crucially, you come to realise the commonalities that Shakespeare gave them in their parental relations.
Not just that they’re all raised by fathers in single parent households, but that their raging against the patriarchal machine is further shaped by the lack of a maternal figure in their lives too. It’s a key realisation but one that could possibly be explored dramatically a little more, given the number of voices. But through music and movement and particularly striking use of lighting in Anna Reid’s set, the group moves to an important place of self-actualisation, one which should – in a better world – have ramifications for playwrights far beyond Shakespeare, right up to the present day.