Review: See-through

Posting some of my Edinburgh reviews, originally published by Exeunt.

See-Through, Claire Gaydon, credit Tom Stayte 2

Photo credit: Tom Stayte

Last year, 34% of young people voted YouTuber their top career choice. See-Through, created and performed by Claire Gaydon, is a smart, well-crafted, funny solo show, examining the costs of living your life in the public eye.

Gaydon spends most of the performance with her back to us, recording live YouTube videos on her webcam that appear on the projector screen. Gaydon has a knack for telling a story through the lightest of touches, trusting her audience to fill in the blanks. Through a series of well-curated google searches, she fills in the audience on famous YouTubers and their followings and sources tips for how to start her own channel.

At first, Gaydon’s project to set herself up as a YouTuber seems fun. We see videos of her designing a logo, working out a cheesy jingle and getting photos done. Building her personal brand: Claire Gaydon. She involves the audience to help her do challenges and makes a video with her mum to celebrate reaching 100 followers. Things start subtly to unravel, as the YouTuber ‘Claire Gaydon’ makes increasingly confessional videos in order to amass more views and subscribers. The harmless buzz of validation becomes an increasingly traumatic addiction. Texts from Claire’s mum start to appear in the corner of the screen (although they’re so small on the big screen they can be easily missed) – ‘please call me, we need to talk’.

YouTube is the contemporary confessional and See-Through skewers the genre of video that demands such self-exposure. Yet it is striking how many of the ethical questions she raises can be applied to a particular kind of autobiographical performance too. At the peak of the narrative arc of the show, Gaydon delivers a very personal confession in the frame of a YouTube video. She says the video got 1000 views, then she took it down. It doesn’t matter whether or not she actually uploaded it to YouTube, because she told us, the audience. Isn’t it a bit weird to have a genre of entertainment that depends upon performers exposing intimate parts of themselves to complete strangers?

When I saw Cock, Cock…Who’s There? I found myself distracted by worrying about the performer Samira Elagoz’s safety in the situations she engineered to generate material for her show about her rape. I don’t want to take anything away from her choices and her creative process. But, having seen a lot of work this fringe about sexual assault, I am concerned about the ethics of a genre that encourages the sharing of traumatic experience to generate some kind of catharsis or experience of authenticity for an audience. For me, See-Through deftly articulates the need for self-care and boundaries as any kind of performer working autobiographically, from performance art to YouTube.

I was curious whether Gaydon actually made these YouTube videos, so after the show I searched for her channel and all I found was a promo video for the show. She might have made the videos and deleted them. She might just have mocked up the graphics on photoshop. As much as I might be curious to find out, that indeterminacy is the show’s strength, questioning and mocking the very notion of authenticity in which vloggers trade. Peggy Shaw has said of autobiographical performance, ‘We can bathe ourselves in the truth, we can save ourselves by fiction’, which seems an apt description of See-Through. In our curation of our personal brands, we all present versions of ourselves.

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Review: SPARKS

Posting a few of my Edinburgh reviews, originally published by Exeunt.

Sparks, Beneath, August 2018- press image 5

Some shows feel too beautiful to write about. SPARKS feels like one of those shows. Fumbling for words, I feel like a butterfly collector trying not to crush the wings of my specimen as attempt to pinion it to a board.

I say I feel rather than I think because SPARKS was a play I felt, far more deeply than I expected. And when the tears came they would not stop. And part of that might have been sleep deprivation, and hormones and general fringe overwhelm. And part of it is because last year my best friend’s mum died and I have been trying to support her or just be there but I don’t quite know how. It is devastating to watch someone else grieve and to know that your grief for them and the person they are grieving is only a tiny fragment of what they must be feeling. There is a bit in SPARKS where Jessica Butcher is heaving herself across the floor on her hands, sadness so heavy on her body she physically cannot get up.

SPARKS is gentle and gently devastating. Jessica Butcher, dressed in a white vest and grey trackie bottoms, and Anoushka Lucas, dressed in a fabulous blue sequinned evening gown, play the same person – one speaks in words and the other speaks in music. Butcher’s script is studded with humanising details: the glow in the dark stars in her childhood bedroom that her mum stuck on the ceiling; the mango lassi and jar of pickles she buys to eat at the bus stop after a date. It never takes itself too seriously. There is an irreverence to Lucas’s original music too, like the baroque organ music she plays to accompany a game of laser quest. Magpie like, it steals shiny bits from a huge range of musical styles – a familiar musical chord structure, rolling spread chords, songs that breath acoustic folk. The music lifts the show beyond words, beyond the banal realities of carrying on living. But those realities are heart-breaking too. Butcher’s list of questions she can no longer ask a person: ‘Can I put this jumper in the washing machine? Do I have a dentist?’ The dial tone of a disconnected number.

There is a disarming chemistry between Butcher and Lucas, brought out by Jessica Edwards’ beautiful direction. In one of the most powerful moments of the show, Butcher delivers a quiet monologue about visiting her mum in the nursing home, not to the audience but to Lucas. They sit opposite each other, hugging their knees, tears tracing down their cheeks.

The bit I responded to most strongly in SPARKS is only one strand of the show. Its main story is about being swept up in a new relationship. The pressure to get your life sorted by the time you’re 30. Searching for love, anywhere it might manifest. The two strands don’t always connect but structurally they’re essential to one another, the humour and the sadness interwoven like a skein.

After the show, when I was trying to pack my feelings away to go on to the next show but the tears would not stop, a woman about the same age as my mum enveloped me into a hug and said ‘I know’. I got snot on her sleeve. And I felt bad because what if she thought my mum – who is very much alive – was dead. Like a child when you worry that someone you love is dead and then you have to check they’re still alive because you worry you might actually have caused it by worrying. Just me?

Go and see SPARKS. If you can, take your Mum. And hold her tight.

Review: It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

Posting a few of my Edinburgh fringe reviews, originally published by Exeunt.

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ekphrasis
noun. the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise

In a sense all theatre reviewing is a form ekphrasis, with all the challenges and slipperiness of trying to pin down the visual into words (like pinioning a butterfly’s wings). Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, which dramatises the trial of Agostino Tassi for the rape of baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, is a particularly visually rich show. Two of Artemisia’s paintings are presented as evidence, enacted through tableaux.

Exhibit A: Susanna and the Elders. 1610. Oil on canvas. Schloss Wessenstein, Pommersfelden, Germany.
Against a blue backdrop scattered with clouds, Susanna undresses to take her bath. The Elders, one in a brown cloak, one in a red cloak, creep through the undergrowth to watch her. Artemisia glosses her painting for the court, from within the painting as Susanna. Although ‘Susanna and the Elders’ is a familiar subject of art, Artemisia tells us in a virtuosic explication of the male gaze, male painters’ Susannas seem to invite the assault. Her Susanna angles her body away, arms raised. Artemisia offers the painting as evidence that the attentions of Agostino Tassi and his men were unreciprocated.

Exhibit B: Judith Slaying Holofernes. c. 1614-20. Oil on canvas. National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples.
Artemisia describes the scene before we see it. The strength required to behead a man, the struggle, the gore. Judith with the sword, her maid holding Holofernes down. Her biographer Mary Garrard proposed that the painting functions as ‘a cathartic expression of the artist’s private, and perhaps repressed, rage’. Holofernes has the face of Agostino and Artemisia painted herself as Judith. Later in the show, a rock star Judith (Sophie Steer) blazes in brandishing a sword, a furious feminist fantasy of revenge. Let’s go and behead some men. Artemisia takes up the sword and steps into her own painting. Judith in a blue dress, her maid in a red dress, Holofernes in a white smock.

As well as recreating Artemisia’s works, Breach create new images:

Exhibit C: Three female performers in black suits with oversized white pointy collars and cuffs. A courtroom that is also an artist’s studio, stepladders, tins of paint, dust sheets.

Exhibit D: Artemisia putting her clothes back on as she describes her rape.

Exhibit E: Artemisia’s hands, dripping with gold paint. Curled into claws of pain. Broken, painter’s fingers. Dripping with gold blood. They made her repeat her confession with her hands in thumb screws. Agostino interrogated Artemisia under torture. Who was on trial here?

The costumes recall Laura Bradshaw and Nic Green’s Cock and Bull and RashDash’s Three Sisters, spinning a web of visual, feminist references.

*

‘Give me the ocular proof’. Othello, III. 3.

Are visual images more trustworthy than words? In documentary theatre, which Breach engages with by using original court transcripts, words are put on trial. Yet the paradox of documentary theatre is that it makes a heightened truth claim to other modes of theatre by presenting evidence, but shapes and edits its evidence as much as any other type of theatre. It puts pressure on what’s true.

His word against hers. One of them must be lying. His word and tens of false witnesses’ words against hers.

It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. Repeated until it no longer sounds like a phrase, the meaning of the words within starting to disintegrate. There is something here about performance and repetition. Does repeating your testimony make it less true?

Artemisia’s paintings are presented as evidence. The show presents her paintings as acts of female self-expression, painting her truth when her words were silenced or ignored. Paintings make different truth claims to words. Saying, ‘It’s true’, conjures the opposite, ‘It’s not true’. There is not one perspective, one interpretation. A painting is not a confession, a testimony, or an autobiography. At the end of the show, Breach tell us that, despite its emphasis in biographical accounts, Artemisia Gentileschi did not allow her rape to define her life. She should be remembered for her art, not her rape. It’s True, It’s True, It’s True beautifully fractures the male gaze into a kaleidoscope of strong colour, fury, and female self-expression.

Ten tips for public engagement

Last week I attended the Public Engagement with Research Summer School at TORCH (the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities). The weeklong series of workshops and talks on how to engage people beyond the academy with academic research was really fun and informative. I came away with lots of ideas and a toolkit of practical advice to make them happen. Here are some highlights of what I learnt.

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Photo of dinosaur in Oxford Natural History Museum by Alan under Creative Commons license

1. Public engagement should benefit the researcher…

This was both the most obvious and the most surprising point for me. I’d previously had it in my head that public engagement was a good thing to do, without being able to articulate why. Start with answering the ‘Why’ question. Reasons could include changing public perceptions of an issue, building a relationship with a partner organisation, or developing your skills.

2. …and benefit the people you’re engaging

Think about what makes your research interesting to other people and what impact you’d like to have (apparently enjoyment counts as impact!). The best public engagement should be non-hierarchical. It’s not about you as the researcher imparting knowledge to people; you should be able to learn from each other.

3. Think about your audience

We were encouraged to think beyond a homogeneous ‘general public’ and to think about which specific communities and groups might be interested in our research. Who you want to engage will shape how you choose to engage them and the format. Where possible, collaborate with your intended audience, so that you can ensure the event meets their needs. It also makes it far more likely that people will come.

4. Making things more accessible is good for everyone

The summer school included a great session on making our public engagement activities accessible to audiences with disabilities. One of the speakers made the great point that making things more accessible makes it more engaging for everyone, which I think is also applicable to a broader sense of access. As academics I think it’s easy for us to slip into patterns of how things are done (like reading your written conference paper out loud). But we could all do with thinking about how we become more engaging communicators and the most creative ways to present our ideas.

5. Keep track of your time

This applies both on a project management level of your public engagement activity and general life advice. Planning, carrying out and evaluating a great public engagement activity takes time. As PhD students we are very busy and juggling multiple commitments. So it’s really important to choose what you do wisely.

6. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel

A good piece of advice we were given was to make the most of existing infrastructure for public engagement, so you can focus on content. TORCH advertises lots of opportunities on its website, such as giving a short talk at one of the Ashmolean’s LiveFriday nights. Also, if you want to communicate your research in schools, the Brilliant Club run a great programme.

7. Content is key

It was great to hear from some media and heritage partners about how much they value academics because we can produce great content that’s well-written, reliable and new. Also, while it’s easy to get distracted by all these exciting opportunities, you have to do your research to communicate it.

8. You don’t have to be an extrovert

The thought of doing a piece to camera or presiding at a massive event fills me with dread. Thankfully, there are a lot of different ways to engage with the public, so you can develop existing skills as well as stepping outside your comfort zone. I’m most confident communicating in writing, so that seems like a good place for me to start!

9. Be concise

In the session on pitching to radio, the producer gave us the sobering advice that our press release had to grab the reader in the first 10 words. But my thesis will be 100,000! Distilling the most important and exciting ideas from our research is a useful exercise in itself.

10. Public engagement can take you in new career directions

One of the best things about the summer school was hearing from public engagement professionals with PhDs who obviously love their jobs. In many cases, getting involved with public engagement had led to other career opportunities. Something I took away from the week that I didn’t expect was discovering that, even if academia doesn’t work out for me, there are other paths that still involve communicating research to people.

The AHRC-TORCH Public Engagement with Research Summer School takes place every year and is open to PhD students at Oxford, Cambridge and the Open University (and it’s free to attend!). I’d urge you to apply for it next year if you can – more info here.

How to get your first journal article published

(I wrote this piece for Taylor & Francis Author Services blog. Hopefully it’s helpful!)

In 2016, I was surprised and delighted to win the Theatre and Performance Research Association postgraduate essay prize for my essay, ‘Narrative dysfunction in The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh and On Raftery’s Hill by Marina Carr’, about storytelling in contemporary Irish drama. (I’d encourage every postgrad working on theatre/ performance to apply!) The prize included the essay being considered for publication in one of Routledge’s theatre and performance journals. As a newbie to the discipline, I turned to TaPRA’s Research Officer Dr Jo Robinson for advice on which journal would be the best fit, and then I tentatively submitted my essay to Studies in Theatre and Performance.

1. Have confidence in yourself and your writing

I entered the TaPRA essay prize on a whim during my master’s degree and was very surprised when I heard that I had been shortlisted, let alone to win first prize. I was encouraged by TaPRA’s Research Officer Dr Jo Robinson to submit my essay to Studies in Theatre and Performanceand it was accepted with minor revisions. The whole process was a real boost to my confidence, as it was an external validation of my work by academics I’d never met. My advice for postgraduate and early career researchers: enter that essay competition! Submit your painstakingly reworked article to that journal! You never know what may come of it.

2. Peer reviewers aren’t out to get you

There are lots of scary stories out there about soul-destroying peer reviews, but mine were actually very fair and constructive. One of them offered some helpful reading suggestions for my theoretical approach; I ended up disagreeing with the recommended books, but it helped me situate my argument in a gap in the critical literature. The peer review reports gave me a new perspective on my work, and helped me to clarify my argument and writing style.

3. Editors want to help you write the best article possible

Associate Editor of Studies in Theatre and Performance, Dr Jacqueline Bolton, kindly agreed to mentor me through the publication process. She reassured me about peer review, answered my copyright questions, and gave me an extension when edits took longer than I thought. Her help was invaluable at demystifying how academic journals work.

4. Don’t be afraid of change

Although ‘kill your darlings’ is a cliché, it proved good advice for my editing process. My ‘darling’ was the title, which originally started with a quotation from one of the plays. One of the peer reviewers pointed out it wasn’t actually that relevant to the essay. But it was such a good quote! I cut it. Between my first draft (which, incidentally, was draft five in my own personal drafting process) and my second draft, I changed a lot, including completely rewriting the introduction. I’m glad I did; it became a much stronger article because of it.

5. Be patient

The publication process is a long one. Apparently mine was very quick – but it still felt long, particularly as I was making PhD applications at the time and wondering when exactly it would be legitimate to put ‘publication forthcoming’ on my CV. Nevertheless, seeing your words in print in one of the top theatre journals and cajoling your friends and family into at least pretending they’ve read them is worth the wait.

Thank you to Dr Jo Robinson, Professor Joanne Tompkins and TaPRA, Dr Jacqueline Bolton and the Studies in Theatre and Performance editors and reviewers, and the Routledge Author Services team, for helping me get my first journal article published.

You can read my article on Enda Walsh and Marina Carr here.

Review: RashDash’s Three Sisters at the Yard Theatre

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Photo: Richard Davenport

Dear RashDash,

I know you don’t like critics because Abbi read out a lot of reviews of famous Chekhov productions very fast, wearing a ruff and sequined hot pants. But I promise I won’t rate you out of five or patronise you with a gold star or give you a quotable soundbite to put your posters. Even though I know you got four stars from The Times and The Guardian and The Stage because it says so on the back of the play text, which I bought because I had to take a piece of the show away with me.

I’m not going to write what happens because nothing happens in Chekhov and by getting rid of the men in Three Sisters, who have most of the lines and do most of the happening, your version steps out of the linear narrative of nothing happening. You pile up images that don’t necessarily fit together or get explained. You heap them up into something bigger, like the pile of discarded costumes in the corner of the stage. Here are some of my favourites:

-Olga, Irina and Masha draped across furniture in exquisite ennui

-The ‘Tick-Tock Tick-Tock’ ticker tape machine

-The Spice Girls party costumes

-Olga piling up books on Masha’s chest and standing on top of them – the weight of the canon

-The Chekhov cheerleader dance – ‘Give me a C-H-E-K-H-O-V!’

-Olga snogging a bust of Chekhov

-The three sisters dressed in bear suits

-Irina lying across the piano keys

There are fewer dance bits in this one than Two Man Show but more songs and I wondered why. I thought the songs were great. A few times I wanted to get up and dance, which is not an urge I normally have, but no-one else was and I thought it’d be weird so I didn’t. I liked how each of you got your moment in the spotlight: Chloe Rianna’s banging drum solo; Yoon-Ji Kim’s double-stopping violin piece; Irina’s (Becky Wilkie’s) octave-spanning turn on the piano; Olga’s Katie Perry and Sia-inspired tribute to having fun (Helen Goalen’s); Masha’s (Abbi Greenland’s) power ballad about the kind of man she wants in her life. Consciously virtuosic moments that weren’t allowed to compromise the ensemble. I liked how you watched and listened to each other when it wasn’t your turn to make noise.

Ever since I saw The Writer by Ella Hickson I’ve been thinking about the gendering of artistic genius and seeing your show has helped me make more sense of that show. The incompatibility of the expectations of women to be ‘good’ and obey the rules with a conception of genius that is somehow wild and lawless and therefore male – even though the rules have been constructed to shore up the male genius’s authority. Olga’s line, ‘I wasted so much time in my twenties being anxious and trying to be good at everything’ really resonated with me. I was painfully ‘good’ at school and part of me still wants to be perceived as ‘good’. Irina intones ‘good toes, naughty toes’ as her sisters demonstrate ballet positions. It made me remember that I got thrown out of ballet because I found it boring. I wanted to take off my skirt instead of skipping around the room. In the wake of #metoo, I’ve read a number of articles mourning the loss of the art that women could have created were it not for male harassers. Three Sisters frames the question more positively: What art could we make if we stopped trying to be ‘good’ on patriarchal terms?

But I liked how you don’t offer ‘genius’ as an uncomplicated solution to this. In Three Sisters to be a genius is to be a plaster-cast bust, hollow, gently revolving on its pedestal. Hickson’s Writer is a genius in male form. Every time she talks about writing, however rich and strange her metaphors, it is individualistic. In the last scene, she fucks her black female partner with a dildo on the sofa, caring only for her pleasure and getting off on power. It seemed to be saying, for women to become great artists, they have to get themselves penises and screw over the women around them, reproducing the canon homosocially. I think what upset me about that production (apart from its representation of queer women) was that I couldn’t tell whether I was supposed to condemn the Writer or root for her. I couldn’t work out its politics and where to situate my own in relation to them. If I admit that I found the form of The Writer unsatisfying, does that mean that I have internalised patriarchal standards of ‘good’ art? Or does it mean that I found the form of The Writer unsatisfying? The Writer interrogates the gendering of forms and gets stuck. All theatrical forms and relationships seem tainted by the patriarchy. Through the songs and crazy costumes, Three Sisters goes a lot further in actually putting alternative forms into practice.

I took Sarah Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life with me to read on the train and this bit seems really relevant:

‘Arms remind us too that labour, who works for whom, is a feminist issue. Labor includes reproductive labor: the labor of reproducing life; the labor of reproducig the conditions that enable others to live….Any feminism that lives up to the promise of that name will not free some women from being arms by employing other women to take up their place. Feminism needs to refuse this division of labor, this freeing up of time and energy for some by the employment of the limbs of others. If the freeing up of time and energy depends on other people’s labor, we are simply passing our exhaustion on to others.’

Your solution to the ‘good girl’ dilemma is not to impersonate male genius. Your solution is work. Not Irina’s bourgeois fantasy of work to give some kind of meaning to her life. But the work of making art. Creative work is work. We see you change your costumes and sweat and get out of breath. Creative work is political work. You sing:

Work work work

Work for more

The future will be beautiful

If we work

It’s out fucking duty to

Work work work

Work to continue

The rebellion

This work is about the collective not the individual, smashing the characters out of their enforced ennui, taking us out of the show. I like how at the end all of you are sitting together in the drawing room, hugging, taking up space. I came out of The Writer feeling stuck and confused and complicit and uneasy. I came out of Three Sisters ready to roll up my sleeves and fuck shit up.

Really I just want to ask to join your band, please. I can’t play a musical instrument but I’d be alright as a backing singer. And I’m ready to work.

Three Sisters is on at the Yard Theatre until 9th May. Book tickets here

Originally published by Exeunt Magazine.

Review: I Have a Mouth and I Will Scream at Vault Festival

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I want to start at the end of I Have a Mouth and I Will Scream. The six women in the cast stand in a circle to play a game, swapping places with each other to avoid being the one left in the middle. At first they jostle and shout at each other, then subside into politeness. One woman is left in the middle. She gives a speech about the difficulty of building something – an attempt at revolution – when the instructions don’t make sense. But she also offers hope that ‘the revolution can be taught’. The audience applaud (a bit too politely?), sensing the final cadence. Another member of the cast holds up a placard which reads, ‘This is not the end’. They trash the stage with nappies, cereal, tampons. Printed ‘Womanifestos’ are strewn through the audience. I pick one up and read:

‘Institutions we depend upon are now wholly inadequate.

Honestly? Some things are made to be destroyed.

And

If chaos ensues then that is marvellous. There will be dissent tonight; the dissent should be recognised as integral to the play.

But If you take yourself too seriously when creating art you run the risk of condescension.

Because Sometimes academia is not a useful tool.

A hammer is a useful tool.’

Can you start a revolution inside a theatre? How can you script dissent? How can you fashion a play that is a hammer?

I am sceptical of plays that intend chaos. Like how productions of Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, with its impossible stage direction, ‘This play should not be well-behaved’, always end up being a bit too well-behaved. Chaos seems unscriptable and unrehearsable. Stage mess will always be, to some extent, staged (and quickly swept up in the hasty fringe get out). This is partly a formal problem, which I Have a Mouth articulates. ‘Stop complaining there is no narrative’, one of the cast shouts at the audience at the beginning of the show. The forms of theatre we depend on, I Have a Mouth suggests, are inadequate for what needs to be said.

I Have a Mouth and I Will Scream is a controlled explosion. It’s like Abi Zakarian and Rafaella Marcus have dramatised my Twitter feed. Sometimes cacophonous, sometimes harmonious, it is a collection of sketches, songs, speeches and stand-up on various feminist issues. There are so many hilarious moments in this piece: a woman talking about how exhausting it is being a woman and being expected to maintain a vagina ‘like a hamster play-tunnel’ (!), while having her hair, nails and feet done by the rest of the cast; a movement sequence to Dolly Parton’s 9-5 in which the cast writhe away from imaginary groping hands on the tube; frank translation of male harassment apologists’ non-apologies. And more hard-hitting scenes, in which the humour has a bitter tang: a group of white feminists ignoring Kayle Meikle’s character when she is holding the Allen key to their flatpack furniture project; a WI meeting that wants to check its new member is a ‘real woman’ by an invasive bodily examination. Rafaella Marcus’s direction is inventive and the cast take on their many roles with conviction and energy.

However, I wanted some kind of interpretative framework or, dare I say it, narrative thread to bind it all together. Maybe that thread is feminism, given that the Womanifesto credits Mina Loy’s The Feminist Manifesto (1914), which begins ‘The feminist movement as at present instituted is Inadequate’. Is I Have a Mouth saying that feminism has itself become an institution or institutionalised? The cast all wear ‘We should all be feminists’ T-shirts and one character says she bought hers for £400. It takes swipes at (white) feminism’s exclusion of women of colour, the commercial appropriation of feminism, the younger generation’s tendency to erase the activism of their mothers. However, the sketch format does not necessarily lend itself to either nuance or context (which Zakarian hilariously personifies at one point). Instead, it can seem like a namechecking of issues: body-shaming, marriage, periods, sexual harassment, workplace sexism. In addressing some of the exclusions of twenty-first century feminism, I Have a Mouth made me more conscious of its own exclusions. In her review, Ava Davies points out ‘the decision to hold white feminism to account is important and overdue until we realise that it’s again centering white women in a piece that is made up of a majority of white women’. Also, where are the queer women? There are a couple of token lesbian characters but, given that reference is made to transphobia, it is troubling that being a woman seems to be equated with having periods in the celebration of Judy Chicago’s art? Where are the disabled women? I know that I Have a Mouth can’t say everything in 60 minutes and it is more intersectional than many professedly feminist shows, but omissions are still politically significant.

As a researcher and maker of feminist theatre, it feels like a betrayal of solidarity for me to critique a feminist piece of theatre. However, I am bringing my critical attention to bear upon I Have a Mouth because I believe it is an important piece of theatre with important things to say and a valuable project. Just like I Have a Mouth’s critique of feminism definitely does not want to do away with or discount feminism, but rather to show how important it still is. In Bodies that Matter, Judith Butler, paraphrasing Gayatri Spivak, says that deconstruction is ‘the critique of something useful, the critique of something we cannot do without’. Therefore, she argues, it is vital to critique the term ‘woman’, ‘without which feminism loses its democratizing potential through refusing to engage – take stock of, and become transformed by – the exclusions which put it into play’. (OK this definitely counts as bringing academia as a tool rather than a hammer). I Have a Mouth and I Will Scream feels like it is still in development. But when it finds its voice, I’ll be listening to hear its roar.

I Have a Mouth and I Will Scream was performed as part of Vault Festival 2018. Click here for more details. 

Originally published by Exeunt Magazine.