Earlier this week, Papercut Goes Zoom! showcased three short plays that tackled the racial, gender and social concerns of the 21st century. Of the monologues, two were performed ‘sight unseen’, which added a frisson to the proceedings.
Originally commissioned as part of ‘My White Best Friend and Other Letters Left Unsaid’ season at The Bunker Theatre, Matilda Ibini’s A Letter is novel in the way it broaches interracial relationships from school days to adulthood. Kelechi Okafor played a girl of Nigerian descent whose relationship with a caucasian girl changes over time.
The play begins with the provocative phrase: “I think I’m in love with a Tory.” Certainly not a sentiment shared by many in Britain. ‘Living in each other’s pockets’ as teenagers, the ‘best friend’ is accepted as a member of the family – even an avid fan of the mother’s spicy cooking. It is, however, during the protaganist’s ‘apolitical’ years that a ‘divergence’ begins to take place. Initially taking her mother’s political views as gospel, the protagonist discovers for herself why the values and policies of the Conservative Party are naturally at odds with a fairer, equitable society.
As the protagonist tries to ‘rationalise’ her ex’s political voting record, it becomes harder to justify. It’s speculated that it was a momentary lapse of judgement, or a random decision. However, after her ex votes for the Tories again, the protagonist has to face the bitter truth that political choices reflects one’s truest nature – and that her former lover believes the marginalised on the fringe of society deserve to have what little they have taken away. Knowing this, can they ever be ‘close’ again?
He kissed me, he kissed me
He hit me and it felt like a kiss
She’s The One – Saint Etienne
Sex and violence have often been interlinked in discussions, but why is that and what’s been done to address it? Performed ‘sight unseen’ by Annice Boparai, Melissa Dunne’s Eggshells is a frank reflection on the underbelly of sexuality. There is a meta-aspect to the piece, as Boparai acknowledged her presence there as an actor and made a reference to what she was wearing. This later tied in with how society (explicity ot implicitly) places the ‘ownership’ of ‘blame’ on women because of their attire.
Back in 2012, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey was all the rage, with its themes of sadism/masochism. The last time female sexuality caught the public’s imagination to such a degree was with the work of Anaïs Nin and Pauline Réage, whose The Story of O also dealt with BDSM themes. With this in mind, can ‘playful violence’ be considered ‘natural’ or compatible with feminine sexuality (albeit hidden)? Or on feminist grounds is it just plain ‘wrong’? Such questions are asked by Boparai, as she navigates the ‘moral minefield’ behind ‘unfettered relations’ versus value judgements of what passes for ‘approved sexuality’.
Most recently, there has been a change in UK law to rescind the “rough sex” defence. However, it’s doubtful that this will bring about change at a cultural level. After all, when mainstream musicals like Carousel treat domestic violence as something perfectly normal – “It is possible, dear, for someone to hit you — hit you hard — and not hurt at all.” – you know the ‘justification’ for violence is ingrained into society.
Closing the evening, Sarah Grochala’s The Little Mermaid is in keeping with spirit of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale – acknowledging the darker aspects of the character’s ‘pain’ and circumstances.
Grace Chilton plays Rusalka, a girl from Odessa, who is used for ‘entertainment purposes’ by the Ukranian mafia. The Englishman she’s introduced to on one occasion is clearly ‘out of his depth’, but she recognises a ‘passive’, decent streak within him.
Some time later, Rusalka finds herself in Basingstoke – the town where her ‘Prince Charming’ resides. But Rusalka finds her existence is now ‘grey’ – not just because of the British weather, but away from the blue skies of Odessa, having to eke out a living making sandwiches. The ‘worst’ thing though is the civil, but distant daily encounters with ‘Prince Charming’ – so near and yet so far. Who is she really? Is there more to life than this?
Far from being melodramatic or demonstrative, Chilton’s Rusalka is very matter-of-fact and worldly-wise. And it because of her understated ‘absence’ of feelings that her predicament is so moving. As she talks about ‘the duties’ of girls in Odessa as ‘hosts’, it isn’t even ‘vanilla sex’ what’s expected of them, but to be available for intercourse of the roughest variety. Her ‘Prince’s’ gentle nature prompts a thawing of the heart, allowing herself to feel – which for her isn’t a ‘good’ thing… “The heart is like a knife. You must cut it out…”
© Michael Davis 2020
Papercut Goes Zoom! was broadcast by Papercut Theatre on 29th and 30th July.