In world of Harvey Weinsteins, Bill Cosbys, MRAs and other own-brand misogynists in and out of the arts, A mini-festival of feminist theatre should be a soothing balm to the wounds wrought by male privilege. It is, in part. Though it’s great that feminist work is getting much-needed exposure, Maiden Speech varies in quality and lacks true intersectionality.
I am often impressed with theatre’s ability to transform the most serious of topics into bouncy, chirpy musicals. Tim Rice and Tom Williams looked to the Crusades for their comedic tale of Richard I’s court musician, Blondel, but discarded much of the history. This 1983 show has some great numbers, but its frivolity and insubstantial book focusing on a personal journey rather than the larger political landscape is diminutive rather than powerfully sweeping. This is no Les Mis or Miss Saigon; it is instead an under-developed documentation of a rise to fame – but it still has its moments of fun.
I have a fairly robust constitution and am not particularly squeamish, but Gary Owen’s latest had me trying not to be sick on Meg Vaughan’s bag on my right, or the empty seats to my left and in front of me. They were empty because some people walked out in the first half, and others didn’t return after the interval. That’s not to say Killology isn’t brilliant – it absolutely is. But the brutal story about fractured father/son relationships, toxic masculinity and revenge is bloody hard to watch.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 makes sharing explicit images without consent of the person or persons in the images illegal. Though this legislation is progress in fighting revenge porn and posting sexual photos and images online by criminalising it, the problem hasn’t gone away. Charlotte Josephine’s BLUSH tells the stories of five unrelated individuals effected by revenge porn, trolling and the proliferation of easily accessible online pornography. Some of the stories more tenuously link to the theme, but the montage format and frantic, physical interludes provide a wider view of the problem and how people, usually young women, can have their lives ruined by the click of mouse.
Daniel Foxsmith plays a suburban dad with a penchant for teen porn, and a successful app developer invited to speak to young entrepreneurs in New York who makes some bad decisions on a night out. These characters have similar demeanours; Foxsmith could differentiate them further on order make them more distinct. Though they both get themselves into difficult situations, Josephine plays three different women more directly effected by explicit images online. Though two of these characters have anticipated narratives, the third, a ghosted woman with a strong Estuary accent, is a surprise but a great alternative perspective on the issue. All five characters have elements of stereotype, but their responses to their own conflicts reads as genuinely personal through the text and the actors’ interpretations.
Not just interweaving monologues, director Ed Stambollouian incorporates physical sequences that become more frequent and increasingly violent, bleeding into the text. As online and real life blur, emotions intensify, and a photo studio set reminds us that everything we do is on show and ripe for consumption by an anonymous audience of thousands. Josephine has created a good set of characters, though stronger links to the topic would demonstrate the universal risk surrounding revenge porn.
Even though the script is has merit, the use of physical theatre in relation to the issue and the characters’ experiences makes this a much stronger, more evocative production. Without a doubt, this is still an important issue that deserves stage time.
BLUSH runs through 28th August.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.