Bicycle, currently in the late-show slot at the Old Fitz, is an entertaining and insightful feminist commentary on writing, creativity and society, and, delightfully, with an element of vampiric legend mixed in for good-measure.
Our 19th century protagonist (a naïve and ambitious Danielle Baynes, who also wrote the script) has been gifted a bicycle by a Transylvanian Count who has requested she dine with him for dinner. She embraces the challenge of learning to ride a bike, despite social convention that tries to keep women out of the bicycle seat, dines with the Count in his mysterious castle, and returns home a changed woman with a renewed inspiration for her novel-in-progress.
Baynes has created an entertaining gothic tale on the one hand – an innocent Victorian village girl meets a Vampire – but on the other, it has a greater purpose; she has written a nuanced and intelligent discussion of women’s oppression throughout history.
The bike at the centre of this story is a clear and satisfying symbol for female liberation – a celebration of women defying social norms and riding off into a new world. Baynes’ script balances lightness with depth; she has a deft handle on the comedic scenes while not shying away from the hardships women have gone through in history. The final scene of the play, where Baynes defies Dracula, is a confronting reminder of the way history has tried to silence women; it’s also a reminder of the way countless women have come out victorious and continue to still fight for their voice to be heard.
Baynes performance is enchanting. Under Michael Dean’s focused and harrowing direction she takes on a series of guises; as the young Englishwoman at the heart of the piece she is sweet, charming and inspired; her Count is brooding and imperious, and near the end of the play she takes on a touching performance of a caring yet horrified father. It’s a wonderfully detailed performance that is captivating from start to finish.
Pip Dracakis commands the audience’s attention as the play’s accompanying musician, weaving into the black box theatre a haunting presence. The violin amplifies the gothic qualities of the piece and intensifies many of the more dramatic scenes.
Dean’s staging, coupled with the often foreboding lighting by Matt Ralph, further heightens the drama when necessary and provides for lightness when the script slips into comedy, a beacon of relief in step as the bike turns into a series of unexpected props. .
Our male-driven society has attempted to keep women still and silent since time immemorial. In Bicycle, Baynes shines a light on the women who have ignored those restraints and rode on anyway.