Reviews of Jennifer Barclay's Clearing Hedges
at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2002
She may not be as Amazonian as her heroine, but American actress Jennifer Barclay performs truly Herculean tasks with this one-woman show, which traces the true story of female athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias through Barclay's portrayal of seven different characters.
There are times when it is hard to recognise each voice as distinctive, but that never impedes the audience's understanding of the character - everyone else is support and Babe is clearly the star of this show.
If you're not aware of the significance of Zaharias in American sporting history, she won three Olympic medals for athletics, successfully played professional baseball and basketball, was one of the founder members of the US Ladies' Professional Golf Association and generally was a living human dynamo, lighting up the lives of those who knew her.
It's the kind of role that allows an actress to let rip in style - and Barclay does so with full force. She suggests Zaharias expressively through her voice and body, although, admittedly, her golf swing looked a little shonky.
And while an array of clichés are suggested by the gender politics involved, Clearing Hedges vaults nimbly over the pitfalls to finish strongly.
The only complaints? A little too short and breathless to fully grip the emotions, but then, what do you expect from a play dealing with athletics?
Clearing hedges is how Babe Didrikson practised to be an Olympic athlete and Jennifer Barclay the actress/ playwright goes at quite a speed too.
Jennifer tells the story of Babe, a determined young girl who decided to be a famous athlete and lets nothing stand in her way - not her sex, her background, or media opinion. Set in the 1940's, the story is told by seven people (including Babe herself) all played by Jennifer, which can be a bit confusing for a few seconds after each change. All the characters though are very believable and you warm to them despite the fact that some aren't developed as much as you might wish, possibly due to lack of time.
This very human play delivers some pity insights into what it takes to be a successful sports woman - as relevant today as they were in the 1940s.
THE STAGE (Does not use star ratings)
A contemporary of thirties super-athlete Jesse Owen, Babe Didrikson Zaharias was another sports pioneer who had a battery of prejudices to deal with after bursting onto the scene as a wonderwoman of Olympic athletics, before turning her hand to a legendary career on the world's golf circuit.
Writer and performer Jennifer Barclay uses the voices of key players in this extraordinary life - including that of Zaharias herself - to recreate her teenage years over-coming small-town attitudes to become the "world beating girl Viking of Texas" but still having to tackle a male-dominated profession aghast at seeing the playing fields depriving kitchens of the fairer sex. She married a boxer who became her manager and fell into an unlikely menage with a youthful female golfer before battling cancer.
Accents are not Barclay's strong point (Zaharias' Norwegian mum sounds more Yiddish Ghanaian) and her material is often irritatingly coy but her infectious delivery more than makes up for Jay Paul Skelton's static direction while her respect for her subject shines through.
Though uncomfortable with lesbian undertones and issues of sexism, this is a delightful, sometimes ironic tale, even if a tad too apple pie.