10 March 2012
Outside the New Diorama Theatre, a huge electronic woman is projected onto a high commercial building. She sways as if on a catwalk, endlessly walking on. Inside, Spare Tyre is celebrating International Women's Day, with a series of performances focussed on violence against women. Nicole Fordham Hodges is there.
'What is a woman?' asks Fay Helm. She performs her own answer, an enactment of 'ordinary' womens' roles: wife, mother, sister. She stumbles over a word: 'I can't do this' she says. It comes across simply as part of the show. The boundaries here between acting and reality are paper thin: these are profoundly truthful performances.
'Glass Petals,' written by Emma Parish and performed by Vickie Lee, is a story about abuse and its long shadow. 'He must have undressed me like a doll....This is the sign on the door which gives away who I am.' It ends with a return to a self 'better than before.'
'Blood Sky' by Yasmine Beverly Rana is also about sexual abuse and its aftermath. It features three generations of the same character Joely. This is a clever, ghostly format to convey the course of a life wounded by male violence, yet continuing. 'We are the small things,' says the young-adult Joely, a chilling line.
The cast sing folk songs in the round: 'Mother Earth carry me a child I will always be/ Mother Earth carry me down to the sea.' I think of how we continue and echo the songs of our younger selves, how it adds up to something harmonious: to a better more complex sense of self.
For me, the performance of the night is 'Dream Catcher', beautifully written and compellingly performed by Millie Blandford. She is an elderly tour guide with a green umbrella, dressed in a hospital gown. From guiding us around the Swiss Alps, she cuts to her confusion as she calls for her relatives, then the beeps of the hospital monitors as approaching death breaks her words into chilling poetry.
This performance moves me to tears. A cast member has noticed and is looking straight at me, and with kindness. Have I fallen out of my role as audience member? Is this what participatory art can do? The cast pause to give out posies of mimosa, as is the custom in Italy on 'La Festa della Donna'. It feels a strangely personal gift.
There is, to use Yasmine Beverly Rana's words, an 'absolute necessity to remember' acts of violence, and to speak of them. But there is also a great sense of strength, nurture and recovery in speaking out. Something way beyond survival. Tonight it extends out amongst the cast and towards the audience.
Outside the theatre, the electronic woman is still sashaying along. How insubstantial she is, compared to real, surviving, truthful womanhood.