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The Wife of Willesden

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On 12th January, year 2 English Literature students visited the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn to watch an exciting new play by Zadie Smith, The Wife of Willesden. The play was a modern retelling of Chaucer’s 14th century poem, transforming The Wife of Bath’s Tale to fit contemporary, multicultural north London. With references to ‘Time’s up,’ Jacob Rees-Mogg and owning your privilege, the play tied in with many modern issues and conversations, while sticking closely to the spirit, story and poetic form of the original. Students were particularly interested in the conversations the play opened up about the ways in which women and sexuality are represented in society. Even though 600 years have passed since the original was written, the story of double standards, stereotypes and restrictive expectations still resonated.

 

Set in a local pub, the first part of the play told the story of Alvita, a woman determined to pursue her own desires; she recounts her 5 marriages and how her relationships with the different husbands played out. She tells a story of compromise and a battle of wills, culminating in a dramatic showdown with husband number 5. She then takes part in a storytelling competition, using her story to illustrate her own personal philosophy in life. She tells the tale of a Jamaican Maroon who is sent by Queen Nanny to find out what women most desire. The answer? For men to give them power and freedom! The play was a joyful and uplifting celebration of women and relationships in all their complexities.