ice

This is how everyone should be introduced to every new city. You should get off a train, close your eyes and when you open them there should be a stranger standing before you with their hand outstretched. They should look kind and a little bit odd. They should say, ‘please can I hold your hand?’, and they should lead you round their city. You should get all of their warmth and their knowledge and you should know that they are protecting you and that they are showing you the ropes and it should feel like nothing in the world could hurt you.

Rosana Cade’s Walking:Holding is a trust exercise, a therapy session, a social experiment and a play. It is really something quite intimate and quite beautiful. (And it’s free).

As I walk along the streets of Stoke-on-Trent, holding hands with various strangers, self-consciousness gradually fades. At first I think how people might see us- what relationship they put on us- but after a while I stop caring. I notice everyone else who is holding hands. I want them to notice us too.

We went on stranger danger days at school. I wonder what my teachers would say as I walk around a new city with people I’ve never met before. I’m pretty sure this isn’t following their instructions. These people aren’t actors, just locals who were willing to do something a little strange, to put their trust in a project and to reach out to strangers. We look at ourselves in shop windows and mirrors. We look at graffiti and signs as if they were written for us. We talk about lunch and life and Stoke and London and theatre and my future and their past and their future and holding hands and intimacy and love and loss and it just feels so open and warm even though it’s beginning to lash with cold rain. We joke and talk deeply and move subject swiftly as I’m handed from one stranger to the next. This is a movie, scored by the street performers and surrounding chatter.

The strangers I walk with are at once entirely individual and a representation of everyone. They are a mixture of ages, genders, disabilities, races, heights and chattiness-es. They all wanted to hold my hand. Some hands are cold and some are warm and some are so soft and some are courser with a firmer grip.

(We go from having our hand held as a child to holding the hand of the person you love to holding an elderly hand with the roles reversed. When was the last time you held someone’s hand, properly?)

An old man leads me through a pub and out into the sunlight on the other side where a marching band passes. We talk about love. He says when his previous wife died it was like when you’re holding hands and let go, and then something stops you from being able to hold hands again. But then he met someone else, who I also have the privilege of walking with. And he learnt how to hold hands again.

Walking:Holding makes you understand the power of a team. The solidity of someone standing by your side as your own little army makes you stand a little taller. It makes you want to cry. It makes you feel so valued.

My hands feel so soft and warm and strong. My cheeks ache from smiling.

Please can I hold your hand?

[Experienced 27/08/16. I went to Stoke-on-Trent for it specially, and it was worth every second of the journey.]

 

Follow:

[Edited 12/10/16. It’s still messy and not right but I realised I was just wrong on my first reading and completely missed so much of it, so trying to fix it now.]

This is the song my family listen to every Christmas Day morning. The best bit is when Clarence says ‘you better be good for goodness sake’ so low it almost doesn’t sound real.

The first time I saw Springsteen live was in Cardiff maybe 10 years ago. My dad took us all for my mum’s birthday present (though he likes him more than she does). The only song I knew was Born in the USA and he didn’t sing it. The second time was in 2012 in Hyde Park where he sang with Paul McCartney and then had the power cut off after performing for more than three hours. I knew all of his Wrecking Ball album that time. A few months ago we saw him again at Wembley. This time I could (nearly) sing along to them all.

 

 

This is the ultimate Springsteen concert experience.

When Bruce Springsteen brings you up on stage the crowd goes wild. In part this is because one woman- it’s usually a woman, when he brings groups up he’ll bring up men too, but he always pulls a woman up because he dances with them as if it were his lover, staring intently and singing to her, and his image is very much heterosexual- gives you the feeling that maybe one day that could be you, you’ll be the one to be pulled away from the crowd and held by a super-hero, rock god alpha male. Fair, in part it’s also because Springsteen is just really cool and it’s amazing to be up on stage with him, and being up there makes you feel like a bit of a rock god. But still, the heterosexual-alpha-male thing too.

This is Springsteen being a lad and drinking the crowds’ beer.

 

 

 

This is Ira Brand in her play dressed as her character Ollie dressed as his idol Springsteen.

break yourself

‘Poor man want to be rich
Rich man want to be king
And a king ain’t satisfied
‘Til he rules everything’
-Badlands

This is what I wrote about Ira Brand’s show Break Yourself for Fest Magazine.

‘Bruce Springsteen in 1984 is the epitome of the masculine man, with his rippling muscles, gristly voice and words of love and power. He’s the type of man who would be comfortable sitting with a beer without looking at his phone.

Ira Brand performs in drag as Ollie, the graphic designer who wants to be The Boss. In an exploration of power, sexuality and desire, she confronts important questions about gender today.

Rocking between stories of sex with strange men, uncertain questioning and lip-synced Springsteen, Brand defies the traditional tropes of the drag king scene in becoming androgynous. Her breasts, chest hair drawn on, are on show as she smashes an air guitar – the costume may be masculine but her female body is swinging free. Brand’s gender in Break Yourself is a blank slate, heavy with layers of performance.

She shines as a storyteller, her clear, crisp voice honest and no-nonsense as she gently deconstructs the subtleties of gender, switching between herself and her character. Her attraction to strong men and sex that’s on the “right side of violence” links to her disdain for apologetic traits in female language. Tapping into the desire to have the qualities of those we admire or fear makes Brand’s piece universal.

Though Break Yourself suffers from a lack of cohesiveness in terms of its structure and story, individually each part shouts about an inherent sense of worthlessness disguised by performance, be it through mannerisms or clothes.

Break Yourself asks more questions than it answers, forcing us to consider the way we perform gender and identity, and how we judge others. Perhaps we’re all just dancing in the dark.’

But then you listen back to the lyrics of ‘Fire’, and you realise that Ira Brand’s play is trying to shout about all of this, buried under layers of oozing alpha male sex appeal and Springsteen’s sick tunes.

I’m pulling you close
You just say no
You say you don’t like it
But girl I know you’re a liar
‘Cause when we kiss
Ooooh, Fire

‘You just say no.’ You don’t mean it. You want to kiss me.

That’s not really okay, Bruce.

I say I wanna stay
You say you wanna be alone

Burnin in my soul
It’s outta control

He’s wrong. To say it’s out of control would suggest that men doesn’t have control over his sexual desire, which would be an offensive suggestion to men. Sexual assault is not an inability to make a move, it’s a decision to make a move. It’s a choice. It’s not ‘outta control’ of the perpetrator at all.

There was so much furor over Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines in 2013. Perhaps if the video of Fire illustrated the lyrics, it wouldn’t be so celebrated.

I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it.

I’ve idolised Springsteen for years, and still adore his music. I’m still going to listen to that version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town every Christmas morning. But it makes me uncomfortable to listen to him sing those lyrics about getting with a woman who clearly doesn’t reciprocate the ‘burnin’ desire.

Is it okay just because he’s The Boss?

Follow:

vagina

L’Origine du monde by Gustave Coubert in 1886. Isn’t it great?

When we were in school they used to show us a video of a group of school kids on a tube train. One of the kids would be on a different carriage and encourage the others to join them there. So one by one they would jump over from their carriage to the next, leaping over the gap between them and being pulled through by their friends. Then one of the kids, I think it was a girl, goes to jump but she’s nervous. Her friends yell at her and she is pressured to jump, and then there’s a sort of crackling and crashing and the video changes to one of a watermelon being squashed into thousands of squelchy little pieces as it gets trapped between the tube carriages and smashes to the ground, the tube racing on ahead. That watermelon was meant to be that girl’s head.

Watching that video is what the script of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. feels like.

Revolt. is a piece of fiercly strong feminist theatre that would have much of Twitter exploding with calls of feminazis. Revolt. is about how we talk about sex, gender, and consent. It’s about how we deal with women, and how we deal with being women. It started its life at the RSC in 2014 with a series of other plays that had the provocation: ‘well behaved women rarely make history’.

So I’m going to talk a bit about women, and consent, and being well-behaved.

A few weeks ago I had sex (woah IKR- I swear this gets more interesting). Then – for various reasons that are explained probably too openly in the link below- decided I didn’t want to have sex and asked him to stop. More than once. He did not. I saw, and still see, this as a form of assault because it was non-consensual. I wrote something about it, and it was clear that not everyone agreed with me. I was sent a few messages.

troll1

troll2

Which was fun.

But that’s not the point, I’m not the point of this. The point is- yes, it’s a tricky subject, and yes, what happened to me “could have been worse”. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay. If that’s okay, where do you decide draw the line? Is it only not okay if the girl is crying? If she’s bleeding? If she’s shouting for help?

What Revolt. does is say this isn’t okay.

Revolt. reveals the language of control between genders that might make us think these things are okay. Because if we have an unbalanced language we use for sex, how can we expect people to know that those words translated into physical actions aren’t okay too? When I said stop, I was no longer a person having sex, I was an object being had sex with. By inverting the language and switching up how we talk about sex on stage, Revolt stands up and says, look, do you see these things aren’t acceptable?

Which I really needed to hear.

So perhaps this production will mean more to me than others, but there are plentiful reasons why I think it is still an inspiring play for a wide audience.

‘I want to make Love to you

Or

With?’

(This article on the patriarchy of sex is great too.)

I hadn’t read Revolt. before seeing it, but interviewed director Erica Whyman for AYT about it when it premiered. (I particularly remember because Lyn Gardner retweeted it and that was very exciting.) In that interview, Whyman said this:

“On the one hand [this provocation is] an interesting thought about women now, and whether we’re still expected to behave differently to men, and whether we have to behave badly in order to get noticed. But the other provocation is that their plays don’t have to be well behaved and can experiment with form.”

Birch’s script does both of these things. It swears and spins and screams and says this which is stunning:

‘Lie down and become available. Constantly. Want to be entered. Constantly. It cannot be an Invasion, if you want it. They Cannot Invade if you Want It. Open your legs and throw your dress over your head, pull your knickers down and want it and they can invade you no longer.’

The script also has a form similar in style -when looking at it on a page- to the work of Sarah Kane. The power of Revolt. undoubtedly lies in it’s script and its revolutionary call to celebrate vaginas in a way that manages to make the audience rock with laughter. It twists the norm and makes you reconsider the way you speak, and what you expect from others.

So then, the production. It has ups and downs. It’s like it chokes you and holds you up against a wall and you can’t breathe and then suddenly drops you, runs away to get a Sainsbury’s meal deal or something, then comes back a while later and picks you back up.

Everyone in Edinburgh is talking about Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat, the play about sex and gender with lots of on-stage fingering. (I haven’t seen it but everyone who has is *very* keen to discuss). Next to Triple Threat, it feels like little else at the Fringe could be called radical, but the staging of Revolt.– which by it’s very nature, and the provocation it’s responding to, should be radical- doesn’t even get close to claiming the word.

(But it’s on at the Traverse so perhaps that’s not unexpected? Or is that unfair on the Traverse? But that’s a whole different conversation.).

The staging for the first few sections of the script revolve around beams of light, which I think look pretty cool, but apparently this has been done a lot before, better. It puts the focus on the words, the subtleties of action, the swing of a chair or the writhe of a hip. Anyway, I like it.

But the light beams aren’t used very much and afterwards, any sense of coherent style evaporates. The script suggests no props should be used but Whyman’s staging disobeys this, bringing on all the objects the script vaguely refers to- watermelons and bluebells and potatoes rolling around the stage- and it feels a bit GCSE.

In Birch’s script she has headings, great headings like:

REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE (INVERT IT).

which they project onto a massive screen in this production. It feels a little too easy. Shouldn’t we have to guess these, aren’t they sort of stage directions rather than words we should see or hear?

Then there’s the ending. It was building well, the cast were saying things that made so much sense. Then they laid the table and suddenly became a grandma, mum and child and what they were saying didn’t seem to mix with what they were doing. The passion had suddenly disappeared and it wasn’t weird enough to be swept up in nor naturalistic enough to believe. I’m still not sure what we were meant to think of that scene. Finally all of the individual sections are thrown together in a conglomeration of cries and rants and a spinny chair. It feels thoughtless, it’s simultaneously not messy enough and too messy, it’s organised fun. Watermelons are smashed all over the place and I don’t understand why, and all I can think about is that video of the girl’s head as the watermelon as it’s smashed between the tube carriages.

I want to leave the theatre feeling invigorated, wild, like I do after the first two scenes (particularly the first), but instead I’m a little confused, a little deflated, a little unsatisfied. I hope I get to see this play again in the future in different hands, and perhaps those final scenes will make sense to me. But I’m very grateful to have seen this play, because I needed something bigger than another person to look at me and say it isn’t your fault, that’s not okay.

Revolt. She said. Revolt again. And again please.

(Seen on 17/08/16 at the Traverse at the Edinburgh Fringe)

Follow:

image

Notes: A) Trigger warning for descriptions involving sexual assault. Please don’t read if you think it might be upsetting for you. B) I know Zero’s cast and production team but would hope that personal knowledge doesn’t affect my judgement.

You’ve always believed that words have superpowers. They can bring out the strongest emotions and form the most elaborate stories. They can create new worlds, make people laugh, help you fall in love and spread empathy and understanding.

But what if your words aren’t listened to? What if you say stop but he doesn’t hear, so you say it again but this time he chooses not to? What if he thinks he knows what you mean and he thinks you mean the opposite?

If that one syllable can be misunderstood, mistaken or ignored – if someone can put their orgasm before your consent – then what’s the point of using any words at all?

The law acknowledges that it takes a few seconds for a man to gather his wits and pull out or away, but this is longer than a few seconds.

You tell him to stop because it’s too loud and you don’t want your family to hear and you tell him again and you mean it and you’re more nervous now and he’s not stopping and you’re not turned on anymore and as your body reacts to your brain it’s not exactly painful but it’s not feeling good and he’s not listening and it’s like when you’re on your phone and someone’s talking to you but you don’t really hear them because you’re too engrossed in the conversation and it’s not an excuse and you can see from his face that it’s going to end soon so you stop saying no and you give up and you look to your wall by your right side where there’s a bunch of photos of you and your friends from school and you’re all smiling and you wait and you’re silent and he doesn’t even notice and he finishes and he’s triumphant and he has no idea.

It’s maybe only a few minutes but for those few minutes you don’t want to be there, and you told him that by saying no. He gets louder when you want silence and now he’s gone and you can’t deal with the silence so you distract yourself by putting on a scary TV show to scare yourself in a different way.

That night you send him a message. He should have stopped when you said stop. You curl up in your sheets and hug the teddy who has been with you since you were two. You get out of bed and drink a lot of water and brush your teeth until the taste of him is gone.

He gets your message in the morning. He hadn’t realised what he’s done and begins to apologise so much you think his fingers will weave an enormous sculpture of the word sorry and his mouth will turn into a stitching patterned in the same shape. You thank him for accepting it and not being defensive. He says he would never do that. But then he says he only continued because he thought you wanted to.

He didn’t think you meant it when you said no.

You keep wanting a shower.

When you ask directly, he admits he wouldn’t have said anything if you hadn’t told him. He doesn’t really realise it’s wrong until you point it out. He says he wants to cry. You tell him it’s okay. You find yourself comforting your – no surely, can you call him that? He’s still your friend, isn’t he? But he did it so surely that makes him-?

You’re fine. You’re not scarred for life. You tell him that. You try to joke. But as you say that you wonder if maybe you are just a little bit. If you’ll be more hesitant about going home with someone from a club, or be more wary of dating, or if you’ll ever be able to trust a boyfriend so completely that you know they’d never do that, that they wouldn’t be with you like that without your consent. That they would stop if you asked them to. You wonder if you should give a contract to every boy you ever consider messing around with, make them sign an oath that they will never do that. Insert a chip into their neck that automatically pulls them back to the opposite wall as soon as you say the word stop.

You would say it’s a conversation we don’t have enough, but we do. Everyone knows it’s wrong. And of course he thinks it’s wrong too, it’s just that he didn’t see that he was doing it. He was ‘lost in the moment’. And you talk to a friend and ask if that counts as rape and the friend says yes and you google it over and over on incognito and the time between you telling him to stop and him stopping was only maybe a few minutes so surely it’s not that bad, you think, but those minutes have been playing on your mind and made you feel like you need to hold yourself together slightly in case you fall apart. You hide how much it affects you so as to save him from more concern. To be fair, you’ve just accused him of something pretty hefty, so he’s got thoughts of his own to deal with. You carry on talking and after he’s apologised a lot more you start to talk and joke as normal. Your approach to most things is sarcasm, and gradually it re-emerges, but it’s hard to forget those few minutes and carry on joking.

You’re constantly being told off for being too PC, for jumping on everyone’s comments in case they could seem the slightest bit derogatory. And you can’t tell if you’re overreacting, because you both wanted to have sex and up until that moment it was completely consensual, and it wasn’t as if he hurt you or treated you abusively. He just put his own desire over everything for a few minutes. Is a few minutes really that bad? And you need to write it down in order to make sense of it. Because you kissed him after and you meant that kiss and you like him and he’s not the type of person to do that at all, and you’d never expect him to hurt you or anyone else, and neither would he, and he’s horrified that he did it, once you told him. He’s probably more scarred from the realisation than you are. And he’d never do it again. But he still did it.

You don’t want to tell your best friend or your mum because you were one who went searching and you’re worried they’ll say you kind of brought it on yourself, by putting yourself in that position. But you also realise how dangerous that view is. That is only a step away from saying a girl shouldn’t drink because if she gets raped it’s kind of her own fault for not being aware or sensible enough.

And you carry on talking and joking but you still feel uncomfortable and you tell him you don’t want to have sex with him again and he understands and apologises again. Then you tell him you want space because his continuing to message you with kindness and smiley faces feels uneasy. Because however nice he’s been to you for the rest of the time you’ve known him, you don’t want to be reminded of those few minutes. But he doesn’t seem to understand that’s the reason and sends another smiley face, expecting to hear from you soon.

You’ve just been through a sad break up and you told yourself when getting involved this time – nothing serious, it was just fun and not stressful – that you wouldn’t let yourself get hurt. You thought that meant not getting too many feelings. You thought that meant restricting yourself in some way.

Maybe it’s not that big a deal. Maybe you’re overreacting. Maybe you should just forget about it and not let it affect you. Or maybe you can do without guys for a while, until you’re ready to trust someone else with your body and then maybe your heart, because you really don’t fancy either of them getting hurt again anytime soon.

He sends you another message. ‘Are you just not wanting to have someone at all?’ Yeah. Yeah that’s what you want, for a while at least.

Writing it down helps. Words may not have had much impact in that moment, those minutes, but maybe in the aftermath they really do have healing superpowers.

***

The above is the mindset in which I walk into Zero, a one woman play about broken hearts, broken confidence and broken trust. Those, and sexual assault.

We sit on the curb with Beth as she escapes her 21st birthday party for a moment. Grace Vance plays the gobby birthday girl with a mixture of poise, defiance and shattering vulnerability. She leads us through her story, chatting absent-mindedly and thinking back over the past few years of her life, jumping into the characters she introduces, switching accent with ease and skill.

Beth’s story shows the delicacy of relationships and how easy it is for them to be manipulative. It considers how sex and consent must be treated with such tenderness because when they fall out of balance it’s like everything turns to eggshells. Above all, her story shows how difficult it is to simply forget and move on.

Debut writer Rachel Ruth Kelly has an incredible awareness of youthful language which gives Beth’s monologue an ease to it. There is nothing strained about Vance treading over Beth’s story for an hour, getting worked up and calming herself back down. As Beth’s secret is slowly revealed, Kelly uses witty, dry humour to prevent this from being a self-pitying wallow in her misfortune. She picks up on traits of female language that I see my friends using all the time, habits and mannerisms that slowly wear down self-belief.

The thing is, in these types of situations- and I’m not comparing myself to Beth, she’s had it far, far, worse- it’s a feeling of worthlessness. When the feeling of wanting to be cleansed is gone, it’s the worthlessness that prevails, that jumps into your mind as the person you’re talking to looks over your shoulder for someone more interesting, or as you dig your nail into your skin every time you see a couple holding hands. If you’re dumped or ignored or are lying right there with someone you like and they don’t even hear you, or choose not to listen, or in Beth’s case far worse, it makes you feel like you may as well not be there. It brings your confidence levels down to zero and in Beth’s case, where she doesn’t have anyone close enough to help her build them back up, there isn’t a lot of hope for what happens when she gets up and walks back inside the club.

Zero (made by an all female production team) gives a voice to a young woman rendered silent by the media, by bullies at school and by a man who took advantage of her youth, devotion and desire to be loved.

(Zero is at Underbelly, Cowgate at the Edinburgh Fringe)

***

He sends you another message. ‘Are you just not wanting to have someone at all?’

At first you think: Yeah. Yeah that’s what you want, for a while at least.

But on second thoughts: I have plenty of someones in my life already.

Follow: