Tag Archives: feminism

Theatre Review: Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents (Waterloo East Theatre, London)

whoop n wailRating: ***

In a Nutshell

A programme of new writing showing the breadth of feminist theatre, but the success of individual pieces still lie on the imagination and ability of individual playwrights.

Overview

Theatre company Whoop ‘n’ Wail launches a new platform for new writing with a difference. All plays presented in the evening much past the Bechdel Test: where there must be two female characters present who must speak about something that isn’t men. Out of all the submissions, six fifteen minute pieces are presented as part of an evening of feminist theatre from both female and male playwrights.

The Final Frontier, by Sam Hall

Dir: John Mitton
Rating: ***

This piece starts off nicely inverting the stereotypical women’s role in TV, and not quite in the way you’d think. Unfortunately, as fun as the piece tries to be, it does come across as a little silly, meaning that a more sinister sub-plot/twists fail to convince and feel out of place, as well as distract from the moments of keen intelligence that are there. It’s reveals are a bit unwieldy and over the top meaning it doesn’t quite satisfy or do any justice to the more serious issues being explored behind the farce. None the less, there’s some interesting ideas here, despite it running away with itself.

Three Women In A Music Box, by Dan Horrigan
Dir: Alice Bonifacio
Rating: *****

This is a play of fascinating imagination and heartfelt intelligence. Three women live together inside a music box, with their sole purpose being to answer a teenage girl’s questions. Their keeper is going on a date with a boy, and she needs answers: quick!

Although this is the one play of the evening that only just(?) passes the Bechdel Test (with the characters spending most of their time talking of the teenager girl’s male love interest), Horrigan’s short is joyous and playful. As well as pawing through the anxieties of teenage courtship whilst carefully treading through issues of adolescent sexuality with deft analysis, Horrigan writes with a marvellous theatrical ingenuity as well as a narrative one. The characters interact directly with the audience (even, at one point, to make salacious accusations upon my character), making them feel wonderfully part of the small world that the characters’ inhabit. Furthermore, actors Lizzie Bourne, Thea Beyleveld, and Dani Moseley not only relish in this break of the fourth wall, but nimbly bounce their character’s personalities off each other with a marvellous joie de vivre.

The result a warm and charming play that’s pricks the cerebellum as well as comforts the cockles.

Cause for Alarm, by Deborah Klayman
Dir: Emily Bush
Rating: ***

Klayman’s tale of a woman going back to a past home and bumping into a lover she’d tried to forget had promise but fell short of being something truly bold. There’s a dark enigma that runs deep in the piece that slowly rises to the surface. However, unfortunately it has to push through some pretty standard melodrama. Some of the shocking twists feel a little too soap-opera rather than something deep and daring. Perhaps a bit more innovative subtly in the direction might have helped a little, rather than resorting to constant outbursts of shouting from characters. It’s a shame, because at the play’s climax, central character Effie turns her personality into something quite chilling and dangerous, capturing a sense of originality and caprice that could have been done with elsewhere.

Furthermore, one of the performers in the piece was far too timid and unconvincing, especially alongside the veteran confidence of their colleagues, making the piece lose any attempt at dramatic traction and impact it might have otherwise.

On The Horizon, by Adam Hughes
Dir: Sarah Davies
Rating: **

The fame machine is brutal: tell us something we don’t know! Unfortuantely, Hughes’ contribution to the evening really doesn’t. A starlet on the cusp of “making it” must decide between her career or her personal morality. Domineered by her manipulative manager, she not only has to make this choice, but simultaneously has her own prejudices challenged. Then play ends up being as shallow and empty as the industry it’s trying to send up. The entire “you-think-you-know-me-but-you-don’t” plot point that the piece hinges on just churns out something incredibly predictable. Flat and obvious, the play really drags.

However, Amanda Croft and Amy Flight’s performances are excellent. Croft in wonderfully devious as the manager and Flight is charmingly ditzy as her ward. Both bounce and clash their personalities in the piece with incredibly slick perception. Croft is also especially unnerving in moments of uncomfortable sexual tension: an unsavoury predator if there ever was one. However, despite these strong performances, they don’t manage to lift the play beyond dull mediocrity.

Dust, by Sarah Davies
Dir: Norman Murray
Rating: *****

Davies has created something that is not only imaginative, but really unique and engrossing. A still-life retrospectively capturing the crumbling relationship between an estranged daughter and mother, Davies applies a dexterous and expert theatrical treatment to this vision. Her main character returns to her deceased mother’s house to sort out her possessions, sifting through an anthology of greeting cards that she kept, getting a glimpse of a heartbreaking decline of her mother’s health and senses that she never knew about.

Davies flanks her main character with two almost spectral actors. But rather than signifying anything supernatural, their purpose is to become the voices of inner monologues, other characters on the end of a phone line, or be the charismatic signatories of the salutations that get sorted through. Because of this treatment, even though not much really happens in the play, there’s a pace and a variety that holds you from one sincere greeting card to the next. Davies also adds in little comic reliefs that break up the pace, but are throwaway, playful, and natural enough that they never distract from the incredibly tender emotions they explore.

The only criticisms is that it feels like it forms the part of a much larger work, and I, for one, am really keen to see it materialise as such. Also, the eventual ending the piece went for was a little bemusing: too sudden and unexplained, adding to the sense that this is an excerpt rather than something stand-alone. But this is absolutely forgiveable as the overall result is a piece that is achingly touching as it is subtly emotive.

My Bloody Launderette, by Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman
Dir: Paul Kevin-Taylor
Rating: ****

Kemp and Klayman end the evening with a marvellous romp! Prince Leia runs a run-down laundrette, where Shakespeare’s Juliet and the Mona Lisa pop in to do their laundry. What transpires is a ping-pong game of wits and intelligence exploring women’s lot in film, art, and theatre respectively, probing notions of beauty, empowerment, and patriarchal ownership in these genres.

There are fantastic little one liners and some wonderful little quips not just in the writing, but visually in things such as Leia’s ear-muffs and her e-cigarette being used as a make-shift lightsaber. It proves that director Paul Kevin-Taylor is as in on the joke as Kemp and Klayman are, making sure that no funny goes unturned in this feisty little farce. But for all the laughs, it’s a surprisingly provocative look at women in the arts. As the characters bemoan their lot and envy the others’, as much as the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, the audience find themselves challenging what they thought they knew or finding a perspective on the issues that they hadn’t considered before.

The only criticism is that the humour is entirely referential. As iconic as Princess Leia, the Mona Lisa, and Juliet are, there are still people out there that have either not read or seen these works of art. Therefore the jokes might not just go over their heads, but perhaps also the points that are trying to be made. But it’s a brave punt on a vehicle for executing some absolutely inspired comic moments and thoughtful dissection.

Verdict

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… goes to show that feminist theatre doesn’t at all need to be swaddled in the gaudy and offensive stereotypes that can surround feminism. It’s also is an interesting look at the fallibility of the Bechdel Test as some plays meet it’s criteria far better than others, although all are mindfully female. What’s great is that nothing feels contrived or finds it an awkward instruction to work around. Yet the success of the pieces, and therefore the evening, is less about a playwright’s feminist persuasions, but the individual creativity and ability of the playwright. But despite a hit and miss launch, the few pieces that absolutely shine marks this an exciting new writing showcase to keep a close eye on.

[youtube http://youtu.be/F2xSki4422g]

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents took place at the Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TH, on 17 and 24 November 2014. For more information about the company, visit www.whoopnwail.com.

Advertisements

Opinion: Dogfight – Misogynistic, Or Just A Show About Misogynists?

Jamie Muscato (front) as Eddie. Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Jamie Muscato (front) as Eddie. More “douche” than a French shower! Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Anyone who has seen Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse, or even been aware of it, will also be aware of the divisive twitter it’s gotten critics in. Some, like myself, loved the show, whilst others found it to be offensive in it’s apparent excusing of misogyny. So, I’ve decided to wade into the argument (late) with my own thoughts as the show closed at the weekend.

Where’s the Offence?

I was actually quite shocked to hear that some people had found the show abhorrent, even going as low as 2*s from The Evening Standard. I consider myself a male feminist, so was a little taken aback at the whole debate, and was panicked at the prospect that I missed something quite dire. I thought it was fantastic, and whilst my review wasn’t a full 5*s, I think there’s so much here that’s worth praising and was genuinely some of the best new musical theatre to have hit London in a long time.

Particularly, I loved Peter Duncan’s book, based on the film by the same name. Gone is the fairy tale/Hollywood transformation and shallow redemption of a protagonist bee-lining towards a happily-ever-after, and instead we get a tale that’s awkward and a resolution that’s rocky and incomplete. The number “First Date, Last Night” wonderfully encapsulates this less than perfect character development.

But I’ve been trying my hardest to think about what could possibly be offensive. The easiest thing I could find offensive were the marines themselves. I myself describe them as “odious” in my review. And I think that’s the point: you’re supposed to hate them. They’re chauvinistic pigs of the highest order, even going as far to rape a prostitute, forcing her to have sex against her will by using the threat of violence. I would loathe to meet anyone who didn’t find them deplorable! But just having them present and behaving such doesn’t mean this celebrates or excuses them, does it? At least, it shouldn’t.

What I think may enshrine this as a misogynistic show in some people’s minds is that they don’t get their just comeuppance. Eddie, on the cusp of a moment of self-awareness and self-respect, literally throws it away for pride and bully-boy camaraderie. He doesn’t learn, and it’s infuriating. But in the very last scene, we see Eddie return to San Francisco, and is embraced by Rose. There are two possible ways of interpreting this. Either we praise Rose for being a most forgiving, intelligent, and humanitarian character that sees the good in everyone and tries to educate them to being better people. Or we scold Rose as someone who suffers patriarchy, and/or is too shallow, cowardly, or stupid (!!!) to give Eddie the scorn he justly deserves: thus misogyny wins.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Heroine, or patriarchal enabler? Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Laura Jane Matthewson as Rose. Heroine, or patriarchal enabler? Photograph: Courtesy of Darren Bell.

Other Misogynistic Theatre

Though I can see at least one way of interpreting Dogfight as misogynistic, what makes me titter about this debate is that there is far more misogynistic theatre out there. For example, the solid but lengthy recent musical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles isn’t exactly a feminist war-cry. The whole crux of Hardy’s story is, “patriarchy sucks, but there’s bugger all you can do except die by it,” which is probably more uneasy to accept than Eddie’s difficulty in changing into a civil citizen. Then there’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. Whilst the last thing I want to do is wander into the debate surrounding people who chose to stay with their abusive partners, neither do I wish to belittle their reasons, I find this a bigger excuse for misogyny (and domestic violence) than Dogfight. Also, there’s the production that the fringe forgot, The Last Ever Musical, which was out-rightly the most offensive and misogynistic thing I’ve ever seen. Two hours of singing songs and making schoolboy jokes about menstruation almost had me storming out of the theatre and forfeiting my review because I was so aghast.

So why has Dogfight received the brunt of criticism? I think it’s because the misogyny here is so explicit; it’s not shielded away from, and shocks because of this. In contrast, a quite easy way of looking at Carousel is that it’s a piece exploring difficulty in consoling love and violence, dressed in some great music and a lot of high-romantic ideas. But Dogfight is balls-out outrageous regarding the disrespect the marines have for women. It’s far more visible, therefore easier to be offended by it.

Male v Female?

The majority of critics who loves the show have been male, and the majority of critics who disliked the show were female. But this is no means, “Oh, well that explains it!” It’s a red herring, if anything, and probably says more about male critics than it does female. But is this really a male v female situation? I think not. It’s more of how a person, regardless of gender, interprets the show. Indeed, there are plenty of females who see the show in a similar light as I and many others.

Worth reading is Rebecca Trehearn’s, who plays Marcy, blog post that brilliantly tackles the debate: one of the most intelligent and objective looks at the argument, where she ultimately takes a positive view of the show. But I also took the time to ask one of the most prominent female theatrical figures in London for her views, who also just happens to be Dogfight’s producer: Danielle Tarento.

“I’ve been astounded by [the debate], to be frank,” claims Tarento. “Firstly, just because we don’t like something, doesn’t mean that a) it doesn’t exist or b) that we shouldn’t look at it. And secondly, surely the show is the opposite of this! Yes, the boys behave badly, but in each instance the girls come out on top. Yes, there was bravado and bad behaviour but to hide the fear and ignorance and to bond as a group. That may not make it right, but that’s no reason not to not confront it.”

Yet I want to do is use Tarento’s words to justify a dismissal of those who think otherwise. As much as I hate the phrase, “check your privilege,” I think it’s important here. I’m a white(ish) lower middle-class male. I am probably going to default to a more to a rosy view of the show than others with less privilege than I, and that’s something I need to bear in mind. Therefore, even with Tarneto’s backing, I recognise that I may not be the best person to have an opinion on the issue. Thus, I’ve actually found my rethinking of how I view and interpret the show a thoughtful experience as a result of this debate.

Laura Jane Matthewson (left) and Jamie Muscato (right). Photograph: Darren Bell.

Laura Jane Matthewson (left) and Jamie Muscato (right). Photograph: Darren Bell.

Critical Miss

Elsewhere, I think too many people have looked to put weight their own, and only their own, opinions on the subject. Particularly, Paul Taylor and Mark Shenton (I use these as two as of the most prominent current critical voices) were quick to come to the show’s defence and fend off the cries of misogyny, neglecting to try to actively engage in their articles with those who oppose their thoughts, even missing a trick in getting in contact with any authoritative females voices, such as Tarento.

I’m disappointed with their responses. Taylor ultimately says that people should see it again and try to see it as not a misogynistic piece, suggesting they “resisted” the first time around, thus implying there isn’t any other viable way to interpret Dogfight. Shenton, though a little more balanced, concluded that, “perhaps some have proved blind to what the show is trying to show.” Whilst I agree that people have seen something quite different to what Tarento has said about her vision in her own words, I think saying that they’re “blind” is a bit too dismissive. I think Taylor and Shenton’s defence of the show is too defensive which hasn’t helped the discussion. Even if difficult to understand and/or agree, these dissents are at worst interesting and at best important, and shouldn’t be shrugged off with such ferocity. Misogyny in entertainment should be an important discussion, and one approached without such polemic dialogue.

The Real Question

Whilst I think it’s right that we’re having this debate, and I think it’s right that people have seen it the way they have, I think the real question is whether audiences should be sheltered. Should producers be putting on shows that offend?

Offence is something that Tarento isn’t worried about. I asked her what she would do if she was given a piece that was potentially offensive. Although being very clear that she does not find Dogfight offensive, she says, that:

Should I actively be choosing a show because of its potential to offend, I would serve the text as honestly and as fully as possible by giving it the best possible production and letting the audience decide.”

As Tarento’s response shows, theatre should challenge and it is up to us to take whatever we will from it. Producers and directors shouldn’t shy away from putting on shows that may offend, within reason and proper context, especially if they spark much needed debates such as this one. But in doing so audiences and critics should not scoff at the fact that something some people might be offended, even if it didn’t offend them: this approach only stymies debate.

In summary, to me Dogfight is just a show about misogynists, and not a show that is misogynistic. I think the fact that Eddie and his marines are hideous human beings, really colours the show and makes it different and engaging, especially as it doesn’t end the way we’d like it to. But just because you disagree, does not make your opinion invalid. In fact, I’m more than interested to hear what you think, and have my own perceptions of the show challenged.

Dogfight played at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD between 8 August – 13 September 2014.