Jane Doe and The Shape of the Pain, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Though the fringe is still often gloriously lo-tech, more shows and venues are embracing and exploring the role technology can play in live performance. New Zealand-based Zanetti Productions’ Jane Doe and China Plate’s The Shape of the Pain are powerful, challenging productions that use tech in different ways from each other, but it is essential to both and enhances the productions’ impact.

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Hamlet Fool, Lion & Unicorn Theatre

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A lesson: always read press releases in full. Why? Because you might turn up to a show and discover it’s performed in Russian (when you don’t speak Russian). At least in this instance knowing the source material for Hamlet Fool, a one-woman street performance style retelling Shakespeare’s classic, provides a base knowledge.

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Manwatching, Royal Court

An anonymous woman frankly monologues about taboo sexual fantasies, abortion, orgasms and what turns her on. It’s honest, personal and as a fellow woman, easy to relate to. But rather than a woman performing the text, Funmbi Omotayo is given the script onstage having never read it before. The experiment to explore the effects of a man delivering a woman’s words on female sexuality has good intentions, but it doesn’t work. Most of the content is common female experience, and there is no primary narrative thread. The reading is often clumsy and flat and with little to look at, the piece lacks much of a dynamic.

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Oh Yes Oh No

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Some questions for women:

Is it ok to want to be fucked?
                                 Does wanting this oppose feminism?
Is it ok to want to be hit in bed?                      Will this man expect that from other women?
Is it ok to fantasise about being raped?               What does this mean if I’ve been raped?

Louise Orwin is asking big questions about female sexuality and desire, but she doesn’t have the answers. There are no definitive answers anyway, just individual experiences. To make Oh Yes Oh No, she interviewed dozens of women around the country and found some disturbing patterns – about 90% of the women she met had been raped. Many of them developed rape fantasies. Women struggled to reconcile their feminism with wanting men to dominate them in bed.

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Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Playwright Alice Birch wants to start a revolution. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. seeks to challenge the patriarchal language and social structures that hold woman second place to men. Being polite and socially acceptable isn’t going to achieve this, and the marketing material states that this play is not well behaved.The issue is that it is. The collection of scenarios with chaotic climax and resigned footnote of an ending starts out strong, but quickly loses sight of its goals through a lot of talking but few suggestions for effective action.

The first scene between a heterosexual couple is the most effective as he talks about all the things he wants to do to her body, and she corrects his language from one of his ownership to one of hers. The subject matter is provocative, funny and establishes a model that women can actually use. It’s not badly behaved, though – it’s polite, considerate and a bit uncomfortable, but not revolutionary. Subsequent scenes have less of a practical application; this isn’t a problem in and of itself, but these scenarios are much less of a catalyst in a show about taking action. There is some rejection of social convention, but little seen as radical. A culminating babble of voices largely indistinct from each other goes on entirely too long and due to the challenge of deciphering specific lines has little impact.

A cast of four, three women and one man, play a range of characters though disappointingly, the characters are middle class and English. Surely the issues that are presented – the language of sexual domination, consent, reproduction, family, flexible working – effect working class people as well.

Madeleine Girling keeps her set simple and efficient, using only items that are fully functional to each scene. Lighting designer Claire Gerrens creates angular, starkly delineated spaces that support the simple demand for equality and empowerment.

Birch certainly uses language well and constructs dynamic, interesting characters but the lack of much motivating material creates a lot of bluster with little change. The script also avoids any issues of intersectionality, particularly social class and race, even though one of the actors is black. Her goals are certainly admirable, but Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.? More like have a chat and then carry on with your life.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. 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.

Torch, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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We’re in a club toilet. Not a nice one, either  – there’s no loo roll, lipstick and graffiti pepper the cubicle walls and door. Jess Mabel Jones is an unnamed woman out with a friend, but after a lot of vodka and some coke, she feels self-conscious, past it and wants to hide. Reflecting on the life choices that brought her to this newly-single moment of remorse, she chronicles past lovers, committed relationships, eating disorders, panic attacks, and youthful exploits. Whilst longing for her youthful, perkier self with thinner legs and a tighter arse, she manages to celebrate the woman she has grown up to be in all of her flawed glory. Jones is an absolute firecracker of a performer who slams herself around a robust script baring lived female experience in all its rawness.

Phoebe-Éclair Powell’s text is an extended monologue of fragmented experiences and memories punctuated with pop songs. It doesn’t shy away from visceral topics, though the transitions from text to music are abrupt with little lead-in. The character she paints alternates between vulnerable and endearing, and ferociously bold. She is an everywoman with experiences that most women can relate to on some level and reminds us that despite going through moments of absolute despair and self-loathing, women are incredible.

It’s not just about girl power, though. The character’s anecdotes are funny, moving and compelling stories that are accessible to any human that has grown up, had sex, been in a relationship or felt they don’t meet society’s expectations. She is haunted by the woman she hasn’t become and simultaneously unapologetic about her.

Director Jessica Edwards incorporates plenty of movement, though some seems gratuitous it prevents the performance from becoming static. Amelia Jane Hankin’s set is both industrial, messy and glittery, an outward expression of the character’s spirit.

Jones’ performance is what makes this production worth seeing. She has a stunning voice, emotional vulnerability, and electric charisma. The songs she covers become the millennial generation’s torch songs as she delivers them with a power and depth. She rallies the audience to her side despite behaviour that could be viewed disapprovingly by more conservative audience members because her commitment and connection to the script is as truthful as it possibly can be. Torch is not one to miss.

Torch 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.