Herstory Theatre Festival, TheatreN16
I am very late to Herstory party, now in its 4th incarnation, Nastazja Somers (soon to be appear in Hope Theatre’s revival of BJ McNeil’s Torn Apart) curated a thought provoking, emotional and bloody talented group of women for this 2-day festival. It contained a mix of discussion, poetry, theatre and other performance arts related to issues faced by women.
The biggest subject of the weekend was abortion which ranged from Bru Theatre’s interactive Twitter piece on ‘late’ abortions and the scrutiny women face, Sarah Cahill (directed by Julie Addy) in Miss Ireland, a humourous but fury inducing tale of the fights women in Ireland face when it comes to getting legal and safe abortions, Dannie-Lu Carr‘s monologue, Just Another Cunt about a woman who has abortion she doesn’t want to save a relationship beyond saving and an extract from the upcoming Mission Abort, written and performed by Therese Ramstedt. All had their own way of telling a story that 1 in 3 women will be able to relate to and it seems ridiculous that in 50th anniversary of legal abortions in England and Wales (Scotland followed much later, Ireland and Northern Ireland didn’t follow at all) we are still talking about abortion like it is a taboo.
Other stand outs include a number of performance poets Tolu Agbeulsi’s poems backed by music on range of subjects including her mother, her lovers and the deeply distressing tale of a girl raped by fellow pupils. Oozing charm (I am amazed Tolu hasn’t tried stand up which would love her air of cheekiness) Tolu made me fall in love with a genre I had actively avoided since childhood. Other poets over the weekend included Amanda Holiday’s works based on female art, Roxanne Carney’s poems about her friends and sexual harassment and Bonnie Adair’s very urban slam poetry.
The monologue or solo performer, as with small spaces and women’s tales, dominated the weekend. Some works focused on race such as Lekharni Chirwa’s ‘Can I Touch Your Hair?’ a damning look at white people’s obsession with afro hair (The answer is no) and Shahbanu performed by Lydia Bakelmun, which looked at a mixed Iranian-British woman trying to get closer to her mother through the (feminised) versions of Iranian epics. The Twilight Zone by Suzy Gill was a looked at a racially mixed lesbian relationship between a woman and her soldier lover, which takes a dark turn as we realise why she is reminiscing and the short piece Social Media Suicide from Clare McCall as she looks at how far women will go for acceptance.
Two standout works include Molly Scarborough’s And We All Laugh, with video footage of her friends saying how bubbly and fun she is this is not about a jolly Dawn French fat woman but a rage against this stereotype. Friends make assumptions, strangers make assumptions then sugarcoat the fact that she is fat (23 stone) in a world of body shaming and body acceptance women have been made to feel guilty about hating their bodies, we do and it was great to see Molly’s performance acknowledge the emotional impact that has on women.
The second was one of the few performances that contained a man (The other being the interesting, though baffling Bandages) called Have Your Cake. A date unravels when a woman jokes that the man will pay. What follows is a very uncomfortable look at rape and sexual assault (and the view others have when it happens to someone else) with the incredible and haunting line “Well you look like a woman who enjoys cake”
An action packed couple of evenings, which began with a panel on female critics and the role they play in encouraging female performers, as someone on this panel (along with the excellent and lovely Laura, Kate and Mary) I am not sure I have that much power beyond supporting and showcasing works such as Herstory and the stories, however good, however much they need improving, from women (both cis and trans) of whatever race and sexuality on this blog. This is very much a call to female arts practitioners to say hello and let us know what is going on.
Herstory will return, at a new central venue TBC