Earlier this year, theatre company Rich Creative (who are led by Annabelle Rich and Emily Warren) showcased a series of short plays that tackled the full spectrum of female sexuality. Most recently, their second ‘season’ took this a step further, exploring how female bodies are viewed and represented in contemporary society. The seven plays are all very different in style and format, and most importantly all have female writers.
L-R: Francesa Tennant, Annabelle Rich and Anyebe Godwin
The Female Gaze kicks off with IT by Annabelle Rich and Jaspar William Cartwright. Beginning as piece of dance, Annabel Rich plays a a young woman forever haunted by what we first think is her ‘reflection’ (Francesca Tennant). However, when her partner (Anyebe Godwin) brings in toast and the ‘reflection’ limits what she has, we realise that her ‘doppelganger’ is actually her ‘idealised self’, the ‘image’ that only anorexics see and listen to. Told not to do any ‘exercise’ for fear of the physical strain on her weakened state, the rebuffed offers to help take their toll on the relationship…
L-R: Keziah Joseph and Joanne Sandi
The second play of the evening, Recovery by Cressida Peever is in some ways a complementary to IT, its own ‘mirror image’. Lying in bed at night Keziah Joseph’s character is caressed by her ‘lover’ (Joanne Sandi). What begins as a conversation about their ‘holiday romance’ versus their present status, escalates to the true nature of their relationship. It is only then do we realise that Sandi’s character isn’t a literal real person, but the breast implants that Joseph’s character’s received – the initial ‘caressing’ being how these secondary characteristics of femaleness made her feel, before the ‘feel-good factor’ wore off…
L-R: MJ Lee, Abbie Steele, Lucinda Turner and Christie Lee Manning
In Projection by Michelle Donkin, the way other women’s opinons influence the way one dresses is explored. Abbie Steele plays a young woman who is about to attend an interview. Not able to decide the most ‘appropriate’ clothes to wear, she asks her friend (MJ Lee) for her input. Every time the ‘interviewee’ leaves the stage to try a different outfit, she comes back played by someone else (Lucinda Turner, Christie Lee Manning) as if to illustrate the completely different person one is portraying. The observation this play raises is that anything that’s worn is implying something, sending out non-verbal signals about how one wants to be perceived. There is also the unsaid thing about whether women ‘should’ be ‘attractive’ at work and how this influence’s one’s ‘business’ relationships with men versus women.
L-R: Sophie Ablett, Zoe Thorne, Eliza Leonard and Holly Gunn
In many ways, nothing encapsulates the voyeurism towards women than webcamming, something addressed by Ann Arvonia’s Girls Eat. Starring Sophie Ablett, Zoe Thorne, Eliza Leonard and Holly Gunn, they play participants in an ‘extreme’ live site. Finding themselves ‘left behind’ in terms of their viewing figures, they embark on ‘pushing the envelope’ on what can be eaten live. Of course if one is ahead of the curve, how much is too much in the quest for sensationalism? The coda, however, is the context that makes this play work, as the participants think that they are free from societal pressures, but don’t realise how askew their rationale is.
Arguably one of the ‘stand-out’ plays of the evening, I’m Parna by Aimee Rutherford challenges all manner of stereotypes. Starring Taya de la Cruz, this monologue has a female Muslim character who address an Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous meeting about her own eating disorder. Wearing a traditional abaya robe-dress and hijab headscarf, she talks about the pressures to fit into smaller jeans and the ‘humiliation’ at having to ask for the next size up. She makes many interesting points, but one thing that stuck with particulaty was how the traditional abaya dress does away with ‘conventional’ body/fashion pressures as it is relatively shapeless in form. Of course it can also hide anorexia effortlessly, which is what ‘Parna’ talks about from personal experience. However, as a character, there are so many facets to her – a Labour supporter, partial to a bit of swearing, self-assured. There’s no single facet about Parna that can be used to pigeonhole her…
Continuing with the subversion of gender and racial stereotypes, Body Like Mine by Keziah Joseph features Dylan Morris, talking to the audience about being the centre of attention. However, as she continues her monologue, we realise that actually, she’s speaking from the perspective of a ‘person of colour’. This puts a completey different complexion on things (no pun intended) and while this idea was first used to striking effect by Chris Goode in his verbatim show Monkey Bars, it is used to good effect here too.
Written by Francesca Tennant, Chittra Vittri, the final play of the evening follows Charlotte Dowding’s character as she partakes in a pastime that’s familar to many women nowadays: yoga. As someone who is not naturally ‘svelte’, Dowding’s office worker doesn’t necessarily find it the easiest thing to do. The inherent humour in the piece derives from the recognition of how ‘ungainly’ one can look performing the poses, especially when being observed by one’s neighbours!
I’ve had the privilege of seeing lots of female-led theatre over the past couple of years, but in terms of new writing, Rich Creative’s contribution is some of the freshest, most original material performed to date.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Female Gaze & Other Stories – Volume II: Written On The Body ran at The Cockpit Theatre on 27th June 2017.
IT by Annabelle Rich and Jasper William Cartwright. Directed by Jasper William Cartwright. Starring Annabelle Rich, Francesca Tennant, Anyebe Godwin.
Recovery by Cressida Peever. Directed by Eliza Leonard. Starring Keziah Joseph, Joanne Sandi.
Projection by Michelle Donkin. Directed by Christie Lee Manning. Starring MJ Lee, Abbie Steele, Christie Lee Manning, Lucinda Turner.
Girls Eat by Ann Arvonia. Directed by Grace Strickland de Souza. Starring Sophie Ablett, Zoe Thorne, Eliza Leonard, Holly Gunn.
I’m Parna by Aimee Rutherford, Directed by Samuel Lane. Starring Taya de la Cruz.
Body Like Mine by Keziah Joseph. Directed by Sophie Ablett. Starring Dylan Morris.
Chittra Vittri by Francesca Tennant. Directed by MJ Lee. Starrring Charlotte Dowding, Abbie Seele, Annabelle Rich, Jaspar Willam Cartwright, Soe Thorn, Sophie Ablett, Francesca Tennant, Joanne Sandi, Taya de la Cruz, Lee Hedges, Grant Cartwright.