Two plays that I’ve seen in the past week have wowed me in different ways. I’m unfamiliar with the concepts and language of theatre, and maybe this is why, when something in a play has a strong effect on me, I am fascinated by the method used to achieve that effect, and then find myself thinking about how a similar means of creating effect might look in writing.
The plays were The Rabble’s Frankenstein and Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, vastly different productions linked only by their feminist preoccupations.
Here and here are reviews that do a good job of briefly summing up the performances, so check those out for context, if you wish, before reading any further (poor form, I know, but see my previous post).
Frankenstein’s contrast of gender roles was the first thing that struck me: His hunting the monster, à la Moby Dick, versus Her birthing it. In both cases, the humans, in contemplating the monster and reacting as they do (hunt and kill / birth and reject), become monstrous. In becoming so, they incite the monster to act out behaviour even more worthy of the epithet ‘monstrous’, and so the cycle continues. It’s a concept I’ve been thinking about, in terms of how I might represent it in the novel MS, so seeing its depiction on stage, and experiencing the emotions that it conjured, was incredibly absorbing for me.
The innovative set likewise filled me with awe. It wasn’t only visually arresting for the audience, but also physically and technically challenging for the actors and crew, and this challenge imbued it with greater significance, as well as a more profound sense of the abject. I won’t describe it in case you see the play — it really is something.
As for Superstar Role Model, the fact that its main subject was a nine-year-old girl was what I most loved. Aunt Bryony and niece Taylor create a role model for ‘tweens’ — why, then, is this role model performing for adult audiences, you might ask; shouldn’t she limit herself to touring primary schools? The decision not to limit this to a tween audience is a determined step away from paternalistic adultism and sexism, because here is a play for adults with, at its front and centre, a nine-year-old girl: the issues that affect her affect society, and we adults should sit up and pay attention.
I make note of this not to devalue those who do work exclusively with kids, which is certainly crucial. But the presenting of this story within an aesthetic context, and with cultural capital, to people who don’t necessarily have familial relationships with children — that, I think, acts as an affirmation of children’s personhood and their importance to society, not because of their potential or who they might become as adults, but because of who they are and what they contribute now, as children.
There were several moments of high emotion (the tearing around in armour to a wrenching soundtrack, fighting the relentless, invisible enemy — information — to protect Taylor’s innocence; the bittersweet propelling Taylor into the world at the end), but it was a moment of simultaneous, conflicting emotion that I found really compelling. It was one of those, Now how can I try to do that in writing? moments.
It was this: Taylor, in the foreground, dances a choreography to a favourite song (Katy Perry, I think). She is beaming. How cute! What delight! Then, behind her Bryony strips off to lycra shorts and a black bra; she does not perform Taylor’s innocent choreography but, presumably, Katy Perry’s. There are at least three conflicting emotions, here, and the fact that they happen simultaneously is what really made me pay attention. There is the Awww when looking at Taylor, the humour of Bryony’s parody (or what you think must surely be a parody — could a pop star really perform such moves when her music is marketed at a tween audience?), and the sickness in your gut that a tween could be exposed to such sexualisation from her role model. Powerful stuff.