Over the years, the subject of female sexuality has been analysed in different ways. Many have pointed out the overt use of sex in advertisements and the double-standards when it comes to the judgement of men and women regarding sexual behaviour. As part of Camden People’s Theatre’s Hotbed: A Festival of Sex, female-led Clamour Theatre brought their satirical show Bridle. Focusing on female behaviour and sexuality and the attempts to control it, Bridle (which is directed by Chloé Doherty) keeps the audience on their toes from start to finish.
Initially dancing with horse head masks on – an allusion to ‘bridling’ female sexuality, but also to psychosexual aspects of Peter Shaffers’s Equus and the animal motifs that appear in Goldfrapp videos and gigs – three women are held for questioning for an unknown crime. So far, so Kafkaesque. Bit by bit, details start to trickle out. The unseen authorities are against sexualisation of women, but this ‘paternal’ interest doesn’t stem from altruism. Rather it mirrors the practise in many parts of the world of the State to supress and control the most personal aspect of a person’s life, something that’s written about in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
As for the women on stage (Charlotte Clitherow, Elissa Churchill and Stephanie Martin who wrote the show) they all play facets of the same character, Evie. The notion of women ‘behaving badly’ is brought up repeatedly, but the criticism for the ladies switches from the State/society to the male feminist boyfriend (heard, but again unseen). Depending on which behaviour is talked about determines which person delivers their monologue. At one end of the spectrum there is the playful, personable persona that Churchill’s represents – talking directly to the audience and telling anecdotes many women can relate to. Then at the other end of the spectrum there is Martin, her character’s persona is the least intimidated of the three and the most ‘extreme’. opinions. Somewhere in between there’s also Clitherow’s – not as ‘up front’ in public regarding her point of view, but still has a ‘subversive’ sexuality.
Anyone who has ever watched Lindsay Dukes’ Portia or Anna Jordan’s Freak at Theatre503 has seen how the darker side of female sexuality can be openly discussed in theatre – the things that ‘shouldn’t’ be discussed, the things that any ‘right-thinking’ feminist ‘shouldn’t’ tolerate or want. Bridle, likewise, continues in this female-led candid conversation, exploring the shades of grey between the female prerogative for self-determination sexually – irrespective of the ‘(im)morality’ of certain fantasies – versus living with the ‘dangers’ of certain behaviour…
With Bridle, the opinion of the State/society is later replaced by the well-meaning, ‘feminist’ boyfriend who although ‘on her side’, is still a man who disapproves of the fantasies. As well-meaning as he is, does even he have a right to…?
Bridle is still in its early stages and as such may continue to evolve with more changes. The show revels in provocative statements, requring the audience to question whether they are to be taken literally as the opinion of the author, or as a means to encourage debate on certain issues. Future versions of the show may clarify this, but I suspect steps in this direction – to make the show more palatable – would lessen its impact and its capacity to challenge our notions.
© Michael Davis 2017
Bridle ran at Camden People’s Theatre on 26th April 2017.