Watson and Ward in a scene
Watson and Ward in a scene

'Daring and abstract' play Woman and Scarecrow on in Dubai this weekend

Lead actors Gwen Watson and Genette Ward talk about one of the most distinctive productions to hit the UAE in years


David Light

Published: Wed 16 Jun 2021, 6:28 PM

Last updated: Wed 16 Jun 2021, 6:31 PM

If you can stick with the sadness, the irony is there that doesn’t make for belly laughs but is certainly funny,” Gwen Watson who plays the titular ‘Woman’ in Woman and Scarecrow began. “Audience members often like to go to the theatre to watch something light and fun. This is entertaining, but it’s very deep and questions things that you may not want questioned right now,” added co-star Genette Ward, the ‘Scarecrow.’ Admittedly unorthodox opening gambits for artists describing their piece being performed at The Theatre Mall of the Emirates all weekend, though fittingly W&S is far from your average play. In a city which usually revels in bringing in the glitzy franchises and big banner shows, Marina Carr’s incisive creation looks to evoke a more meaningful experience.

In it an unnamed Woman lies on her deathbed reflecting on the highs and lows of her life. Holding off death — for now — is an ambiguous character called Scarecrow, assisting her journey through contemplation and offering comfort and recrimination in equal measure. The play, centred on a perennial questioning of ‘what could have been’, is full of dark witticisms and brutal honesty and is brought to us by the award-winning Danú Theatre, directed by Padraig Downey.

“There’s lots of bitter Irish humour,” said Aberdonian native Watson who has been part of Dubai’s acting scene since 2012. “She is dying, which is a cheery theme! She’s reflecting on her philandering husband and lots of unfulfilled potential alongside Scarecrow who we believe is her consciousness, her spirit, her ego. It’s never really completely clear who Scarecrow is but as an audience member you read between the lines.”

“No one is supposed to know who or what this character is,” Ward added about her role. “It’s a great aspect to have because everyone may possibly leave the theatre with a different opinion.”

Hailing from Blackpool and working with the Ministry of Education as a theatre curriculum specialist, Ward told us research for a more ethereal stage presence was challenging.

“I had a look into various Irish mythologies to see if there were any links,” she said. “There were. I also looked into Jungian psychology. I sometimes go very deep. She’s a companion, but she’s also a bit of an aggressor and overall a friend.”

The Woman’s dichotomous personality was also a stretch, Watson said.

“When she is interacting with Scarecrow it’s like having a conversation with herself. During those times she’s quite vibrant. She’s very alive. When she’s talking to the others she’s clearly close to the end of her life.”

Throughout the conversation with the thesps a palpable passion for the project hung in the air. The duo was at pains to stress, while the subject matter could be labeled ‘challenging’, its relatability could not be overstated: a typical Downey production feature.

“Padraig is known for taking in and producing plays that are really ‘out there’,” said Watson. “They’re things you probably wouldn’t normally see in Dubai. It’s very unusual, but so well written that it is very accessible.

“Almost everybody will recognise if not themselves then their mothers, aunts or sisters. It’s universal.”

“It’s quite brave actually,” said Ward. “I think it’s needed. It’s amazing to put something on here that is so daring and abstract.”

Watson also highlighted Downey’s draw to strong female character-led works, a measure to be commended in a realm where male-dominated vehicles are often the norm.

Rehearsing in the time of Covid, the pair revealed, was an unexpectedly enlightening learning curve.

“It has been challenging, but it goes to show nothing is insurmountable,” Watson said. “If you want to do something enough you’ll make it work. Rehearsals were done with masks on and over Zoom as well to minimise contact. The delay over Zoom was lots of fun!”

Protocols in front of audiences have also changed: an essential move says Ward.

“What usually happens is when the play finishes, the people in the stalls will come up on stage and there’s lots of hugs, but you can’t do that now. We need to do everything by the book because the only way this can continue is if everyone in the theatre industry is doing their part.”

What: Woman and Scarecrow

When: June 17-19, 7.30pm (matinee on Saturday at 3pm)

Where: The Theatre at Mall of the Emirates

Tickets: Dh100

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