Tag Archives: Feminism

On Midsummer Mischief, Part Two – Feminism(s)

*Published on Exeunt*

“I’ve fucking cracked it…”

At the beginning of one scene in Alice Birch’s Revolt. She said. Revolt again, an actor begins to try to articulate her newfound theory on the world and its problems. She starts to speak, but is immediately interrupted by someone else. Throughout the next ten minutes, as a dizzy spectacle of sketches happens around her, she struggles to put her ideas into words. Then, just as everything seems to be dropping off a cliff of insanity, she speaks one of the most startling, poetic and honest feminist critiques I’ve heard.

This theme of language and its pitfalls runs throughout Birch’s piece (and, to varying degrees, throughout the other three plays in the Midsummer Mischief season), as the play attempts to come to terms with the way our structures of speech and writing reinforce and perpetuate sexism. Continue reading On Midsummer Mischief, Part Two – Feminism(s)

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“Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel”

at the Soho Theatre, Thursday 10th October 2013

*Originally written for Exeunt*

At the end of the new musical The Commitments, the audiences are almost aggressively told to stand up and dance along to the rendition of Mustang Sally taking place on stage. If we oblige, it’s only because there may be someone else stood in front blocking our view and it could be awkward to stay seated. But there’s something about it’s happy-clappy optimism which makes you feel empty and depressed. Just around the corner at the Soho Theatre, however, Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model effortlessly manages to get a hundred adults to do an animal dance, and contrary to its heartbreaking, tear-inducing final note, leaves you optimistic that you can go out into the “real world” and change it.

Even those of us who didn’t see the show in Edinburgh have probably experienced Catherine Bennett in some way by now;
Continue reading “Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel”

“Major Tom” by Victoria Melody

at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 30th April 2013

I’m not a dog person.

They come in many shapes and sizes, but as far as I can tell all of them are one or more of the following: smelly, lumbering, yappy, excitable, dirty, cheeky or needy. Give me a cat any day of the week.*

For an hour earlier, however, I fell in love with a basset hound, a certain Major Tom. Lolloping around the stage during Victoria Melody’s solo show, he becomes more than just a dog. He’s one of us, and serves as a symbol for all the stupid things to which we as a species subject ourselves. Especially beauty pageants.
Continue reading “Major Tom” by Victoria Melody

“Motherland” by Vincent Dance Theatre

at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 20th November 2012

I always feel the need to begin my reviews of dance pieces with a disclaimer that I know very little about the tropes, traditions, history and techniques of dance. It’s true that one can always have a connection with any piece of art regardless of prior knowledge, but then as a cultural commentator your job – to put it into some kind of context and discuss the ways it works etc. – may be made more difficult by ignorance. This is why I went armed toWarwick Arts Centre with a notepad last night (normally I just watch and listen, preferring to take notes afterwards): in an attempt to widen my limited knowledge of the genre.

The thing about Vincent Dance Theatre’s Motherland, however, is that it’s just as much theatre as it is dance. Structured as a series of vignettes, there are just as many mime, music and image-based sections as there are dance ones. Were we on the continent, Motherland may way be placed under the genre of “theatre”. As things stand on our text-obsessed island, however, we seem scared to talk about this as anything but “dance”.

The piece, directed and choreographed by Charlotte Vincent, is an unashamedly feminist show which attempts to blow open gender stereotypes by satirising our current views of gender, thus exposing the ridiculousness of our archaic perceptions. Some (conservative, reactionary, ridiculous) individuals may suggest that this debate is over (they are wrong) whilst others (who are slightly less ignorant) might oppose the rather overt message which this show exerts. My own opinion on the matter is that we cannot stop being clear about changing what remains a grossly sexist society, and that the subtleties and nuances in Motherland add to and extend the debate.

On a simple, bright white set, five women and five men create a series of repeated images throughout the show. The clearest sees performer Aurora Lubos walk to the back of the stage with a bottle of wine, which she then opens and jerks towards the clean white backdrop. A gloop of thick dark red liquid spurts out onto the wall and the bottle is put down. She then hitches up her skirt and sits against the wall with her legs apart, the red liquid visible between her legs. This is repeated five terms throughout the show, each with a slightly different soundtrack which becomes more discordant as the two-hour show progresses.

On the opposite side of the stage, down stage right, soil is dumped at regular intervals (normally after the image described above). Various performers interact with the dirt (standing, writhing, falling), and within the first fifteen minutes of the piece, a fertility ritual is performed on top of it by men and women, imbuing it with the hope of life to a rich folk song. It is not until the last fifteen minutes, however, that we really see life spring out of this dead earth, as mounds of grass begin to be brought onto stage, injecting bright colour into the previously black, brown, red and white palette.

A regular motif is that of falling – fallen women and fallen men spring to mind – and each section contains some kind of struggle (for life, for death, for love). Whilst many of the more theatrical sequences consider an intellectual, emotional struggle, dance is used to embody a physical struggle, which becomes more and more frequent as the piece continues. One of the best moments of dance sees two men attempting to stop the self-expression of another, followed by a dance verging in the sublime between a man and a woman, suggesting, perhaps, that with mutual respect, men and women can live together in harmony (I always feel when saying statements like this that I may be guilty of the sexism I purport to detest so much, so apologies if that is the case; I’m a little ignorant on these matters so please forgive me).

There are two stand-out moments which aren’t repeated at all and stand alone as rather beautiful pieces of theatre. My favourite is a simple song played by three of the female performers (and sung by the gorgeously dry Patrycja Kujawska) in their underwear about the hundreds of choices that women have to make on a daily basis. They have to seem like both “a virgin and a whore”, “easy but not too easy”, “keen but not too keen”. It’s a bleakly comic view of the modern world, and seems to pastiche – consciously or otherwise – Katy Perry’s Hot n Cold. In another, two musicians stand centre stage playing guitars, as the other performers run in circles, placing wooden boxes to form a ring around them. This race between men and women produces a girl, just shy of her teens, finding herself holding a pair of stilettos, which she proceeds to put on. She totters around the circle as the adults overtake her before two men lift her onto the boxes themselves, picking her up at intervals so she floats around the ‘O’. As quickly as the circle appeared, it has vanished.

If there’s any through-line of action it’s that of this girl. She is our window into this world, and her child-like vision allows the absurdity of the struggles we are watching to become clear. She sees older women looking at themselves in mirrors and copies them. She tries to dance like grown ups. She watches in horror as adults do unspeakable things to one another. If there’s one straightforward message in Motherland it’s this: “Look what we’re doing to our children! We’re fucking them up and it needs to stop”.

“The Shit/ La Merda”

at Summerhall, Mondau 20th August 2012

In time of anger and protest, it’s surprising how few shows I’ve seen at Edinburgh have attempted to voice the problems of the world. The Shit changes this however, as it shows a woman so angry at the world as she sees it she goes beyond being unable to speak to a new level of articulacy. Silvia  Gallarno’s performance is one of the best of the Fringe, and is utterly absorbing from start to finish.

As we enter, Gallarno sits on a platform, nude and gibbering. The lights dim, and she begins a diatribe against the deity of body image, cursing those who judge her because of how she looks and threatening to “eat” her thighs in order to get back at them. The first theme is then set; she is angry at prevailing inequality in the twenty-first century, and feels as she is allowed to do by her fellow countrymen is to follow the cult. She speaks quickly and passionately, needing increase her words per minute ratio to get out all these extraordinary ideas in the space of an hour.

The next section focusses on advertising, and her desire to star in a TV commercial. She goes to an audition, but is turned down, again because of her looks. Righteousness bubbles to the surface, as she explains the hypocrisy we must all experience as we learn to live in a Western society, believing in community and selflessness but being forced to look after ourselves.

At the end of each ‘act’, Gallarno’s voice rises to a deafening crescendo, before the lights black out to allow her and us a breather and time to digest what’s just happened. The next part moves to discuss fellow Italians and the way in which we in the West talk to and react to one another. She constantly feels disconnected and judged, highlighted by her nudity, and comes to realise it is simply not possible to continue to live in this way. She loves her country, but not how it is.

Gallarno switches from character to character without it ever seeming farcical, and eyeballs us to force us to listen. The anger in her voice remains constant, but there are also moments of pain, softness and humour, leading audiences to follow her every step of the way. The screams she omits at the end of each section are truly guttural, and embody everything she is trying to say. When words have been used up, this seems like the only solution.

A quote on the hand-out given at the end reads “The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible” (Bambara). After watching The Shit for an hour, we may not feel like taking up our pitchforks, but there is no doubt a heavy realisation sets in that this anger cannot go unnoticed. It must be harnessed for a greater good, and Gallarno’s thoughts are merely a catalyst to achieve shared understanding and rhetoric. More than that, however, The Shit is a powerful, hard-hitting and brutally raw piece of theatre. The political anger allows this beauty to exist, and vice versa.