Friday, September 09, 2016

Women’s Hour - feminism through the eye of satire, song and crumpet (The MAC, 8-9 September)

Two white-faced, white-bloused, bare-legged performers wearing Y-fronts over their white shorts and sporting rather long ties and pencilled moustaches sing, dance, mime and speak over an hour set aside to think about what it is like to be a woman. A bit like a certain BBC Radio 4 show with a similar name. While the issues pertain to women, there are often exacerbated by men and really deserve to pertain to society as a whole.

There’s an edginess to Women’s Hour and a slight tremble in the bowels of the audience right from the moment we enter the theatre and collect our small gift from Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit. Essentially the show is a collection of interwoven songs, sketches and monologues, some of which repeat and mutate as the show hurtles towards its final applause. The two performers project their satirical critique of feminism from the stage without much need for amplification.

We’re reminded that the objectification of women starts young. Even before Barbie dolls and girly confectionary. And then the sexualisation and body image shaming begins. Even before puberty starts. While it’s entertaining to joke about women politicians being asked about their shoes before talking about policy, so often it’s true. Becca and Louise don’t miss the mark when they fire off their humorous reposts. And feminism and feminists don’t escape their spotlight.

There are puns aplenty and some actual crumpet is thrown around. Projected images and videos intermittently light up a screen at the back of the stage, a third character on stage that avoids becoming distracting. Adverts are remodelled and song lyrics are adapted to elucidate their inner truth (or inject a more apt message).

Some of the best laughs come when the gender specific eggs make their surprising entrance and the cooking of chicken fillets of the silicone variety.

Effort had been taken to customise the show for Belfast, with reference to the not so slender local gender thigh pay gap of 27%. While the show has obviously been updated in places since its 2015 Edinburgh Fringe debut, the absence of any mention of the burkini (and the French ban) is another controlling avenue that would have been worth exploring.

Monologues are spoken in the dark, removing the zany distractions and (mostly) adding intensity to the words being spoken. Serious points about the world of cinema and marketing are hammered home. The setting of sexually violent Youtube comments to music is powerful and memorable.

Women’s Hour is a complex examination of complex issues. Along the way Louise and Becca twirl tampons around in a way I’ve never seen before – but think should become more commonplace – throw crumpet and break all kinds of social taboos by delving into subjects and situations that aren’t spoken about in public. Mostly because it’s not the ‘done thing’ since half the population are obviously totally aware of the topics.

I could only spot six men dotted across the full audience in the upstairs MAC venue last night. Many of the women were having a wail of a time,
Parts of the show were quite uncomfortable to watch and listen to. Let me rephrase that. Parts of the show were quite uncomfortable for me to watch and listen to. But then that’s the point. We don’t have these open conversations … certainly not the ones about ingrowing hairs and pustules.

There’s a lot of material packed in and at times the machine gun delivery of some lines leaves it momentarily unintelligible. While a couple of times during the performance the energy levels wane, it does leave space for your brain to process the onslaught of opinion and ideas.

With strong language and some very strong imagery, Women’s Hour is a challenging show from Sh!t Theatre. Worth catching the second performance at The MAC on Friday 9 September before the show continues its tour through Manchester, Chichester and Warwick.

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