Why Are You So Intimidated by Equality (A Response to Dominic Cavendish)

Well, it’s late, I’m tired, and I have an essay which I’m putting off and I’m angry so I’m writing another post. This time it’s to Dominic Cavendish. He wrote an article in the Telegraph on the 23rd of February about how women are essentially stealing men’s roles. I don’t think that people I follow on twitter accepted the article in any way, but I want to respond because maybe one person, but almost definitely a lot more, will read the article and feel legitimised in their sexism, and that’s not okay.

I think the problem I have with the article (apart from the pretty blatant misogyny) is that Cavendish is really talking about two very separate issues, but melds them into one and in doing so basically shits on female actors. There is the issue of gender bending and how it artistically affects a show, and then there’s the issue of men being ‘elbowed aside’ as he calls it. Firstly, Anna How (@himalanna) tweeted that this article reminds her distinctly of a statistic which says that if there’s 17% women, men in the group think its 50-50. If 33% women, men perceive more women than men and I think that is essentially what Cavendish is struggling with when he asks women ‘to get their mitts off male actors’ parts’. Women are coming to the forefront of the theatre world, with the Royal Court leading the way with a female Artistic Director and putting on eight plays written by women in 2016 out of a total of thirteen, and some people are finding it hard to deal with. Institutionalised misogyny makes us all victims of devaluing women in theatre, and institutionalised racism means that minority actresses are even more devalued. This is slowly changing, but the change is really quite slow, and it’s only slowed down by articles titled ‘the death of the great male actor’. Male actors won’t die out because women are acting too.

It’s interesting that the problem of gender-blind casting usually only seems to be an issue when it comes to historical plays – people feel more protective of Shakespeare and Chekov. They don’t want roles like Hamlet and King Lear to be played by women because they were written for men – right? Well, yes but the female parts were also written for men, so the logic kind of falls apart after that.

Cavendish talks about a suspension of disbelief in theatre, but he uses it to counteract what he calls the ‘thought police’, whereas it seems to me he is being the particularly rigid and traditional one in this situation. Yes, theatre is about play and disbelief – so why does gender matter so greatly when an actor is performing? I was in a workshop with Tim Crouch, and he quoted Michael Craig-Martin’s ‘An Oak Tree’ saying ‘I’ve changed the physical substance of the glass of water into an Oak Tree…I didn’t change it’s appearance. But it’s not a glass of water. It’s an oak tree’. And then, he applied that to theatre – I’ve changed the physical substance of Tamsin Greig into Malvolia…I didn’t change it’s appearance. But it’s not Tamsin Greig. It’s Malvolia. Now I’m not even trying to pretend I came up with this – it was all Crouch – but it’s really quite powerful to think about that and then read the Cavendish article. Doesn’t it seem slightly…redundant now? Acting is about transformation and often gender-bending does come with a political comment, and if so, even better – it’s probably commenting on the state of the world more than your article ever will.

 

 

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Thoughts after Love

On Saturday I saw Love at Birmingham Rep, a transfer from the National Theatre in London. I loved it and I wanted to write about it but it’s been hard to articulate exactly how it moved us all so profoundly. So I’ve collated my thoughts about the show which will never do it justice. In no way is this a review of the show. I didn’t feel like it was right to review it. It warranted an emotional response not an analytical discussion.

Human compassion is delicate and intangible. It gives strength and it complicates us more than we can comprehend.

It can’t save us. It can push us through but it often cannot penetrate to the institutions which have the power to incite change.

Empathy feels like the most powerful and futile of our facets.

Children are light in times of darkness.

Acceptance is difficult. Tolerance is difficult. Sharing, in every sense, is a hard and conflicting necessity.

Theatre is a presentation, a call to action, a story, a representation, a necessity.

We are sat in the lives of the characters. We are sat on the stage. We are sat in the society that crushes them.

We are so close to them and yet we can never be with them.

Voyeuristic?

Important.

Being the first person to hold out your hand and help is the simplest and most true show of love.

We are responsible and helpless.

Familiarity is love. Comfort is love. Sacrifice is love.

If one thing endures it has been and always will be love.

I cried at the end. After the bows. It was a release. It was cathartic.

I feel guilty that I could let it go the next morning.

HIP – Vaults Festival

If a show doesn’t start with pillows and end with tequila shots from now on I’ll be very upset. 

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to my first press night at the Vaults Festival in London for a show called Hip. Created, performed and researched by Jolie Booth, Hip places the audience in a squatter’s flat in Brighton, seemingly encased in history – specifically the history of Ann Clark, a vibrant mother and hedonist who lived and died there. The Vaults seemed to be the perfect place for Booth’s show to take place. Situated underneath Waterloo station we walked through a dark tunnel to get to the theatre, through a mixture of graffitied walls, damp pavements, and the distinct smell of wet paint. It looked like it could be a club or the venue for an underground art scene party. Basically – I felt really cool being there.

Booth begins the show outside – we are shown her Brighton in this dingy tunnel. She points out the sea, the seagulls, the shops, the windows and the people in them. We are given a momentary glimpse into her world. We are told we are being led down the back alley of a pub and ironically the small corridor we are actually led down also has that distinct smell of beer and sewage – it is underneath a train station – but still it felt oddly coincidental. Booth and Clark’s lives were similarly coincidental, colliding in random and meaningful ways. The performance was ‘extra-live’ so essentially it wasn’t really a show, as such, and more of a chat, a sharing of experience and a sharing of two lives. We sat on cushions and familiar songs played on a distant speaker. Booth guides us in bringing Ann into the room, asking us to hold hands and close our eyes. As we do this, and Booth talks to Ann, a train rattles above us and the whole room vibrates. Another coincidence that seems random and yet right.

The show didn’t really feel like a proper production but it was in a good way, I felt comfortable and at home. It was a story and a coincidence. Theatre intertwining with life intertwining with biography intertwining with hip bones.

Would really recommend seeing the show. Even if you don’t like theatre, or maybe especially if you don’t like theatre. And also because you get tequila shots at the end.