Theatre pieces that challenge the new misogyny

Grace Savage in Blind which is at Cast, Doncaster and at the Carriageworks in Leeds this month. Picture: Richard Davenport
Grace Savage in Blind which is at Cast, Doncaster and at the Carriageworks in Leeds this month. Picture: Richard Davenport
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Even today women can struggle to get their voices heard. Nick Ahad speaks to two young women who are telling their stories on stage.

Perhaps the world is more sexist, perhaps we’re just more aware of it, but there appears to be little arguing that misogyny is becoming a greater issue, the further we venture into the digital world.

The explosion of social media has meant greater connection between us all, yet that appears to have served to shine a light into some of the darker – as well as the lighter, corners of humanity.

I argued this in a column for Culture last week, inspired by the bravery of some one-woman shows I have seen recently in the region.

With the two specific performers who inspired that column returning to the region, it felt right to celebrate them again.

In Yorkshire theatre there appears to be something happening, thanks to a new generation of bold young women who are baring their souls on stages.

Grace Savage is a UK champion beatboxer and Selina Thompson a highly regarded theatre maker who has created work at the National Theatre Studio.

They are among a seemingly increasing number of young women who are turning to the stage to tell their stories. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that the media is rampant with stories about social media being used by misogynists to attack women while these women are taking to the stages, but I suspect not.

That the hashtag #EverydaySexism has to exist, allowing women to use Twitter to share their tales of how simply going about their daily lives opens them up to sexist prejudice is something that should shame us all.

It is also, perhaps, one of the reasons why young women are performing solo shows in greater numbers certainly than I have seen in the past decade.

“There is a really gorgeous thing that happens uniquely in theatre, where you have a moment where you recognise yourself in what is happening up there in front of you and when that special moment happens, it makes you bulletproof a little bit,” says Selina Thompson.

“The show, when I first performed it, was one of the rawest, most emotional experiences of my life. At the end of the first run, the following day I sat in the bath for three hours, I just couldn’t move. I was completely exhausted.”

Spent she might have been, but Thompson had been able, with Chewing the Fat, to tell her story unmolested, uninterrupted. How many women can say that about the man’s world of 2014?

“We are entering a fourth, fifth, sixth – I don’t know how many, wave of feminism that does feel like it’s gaining a momentum,” says previously-Sheffield-based Thompson.

“It feels like – particularly in Yorkshire – there is a group of women-led theatre companies – Rash Dash, Paper Birds, that have been making strong work about the female life for some time now.” Thompson’s show, an extraordinary – and extraordinarily painful – work in which she explores what it means to be a fat woman, is called Chewing the Fat.

Performed in her now home city of Leeds recently, the show has won her national recognition and acclaim.

“In the theatre you can set your own terms. When I was writing the show, I would often write the phrase ‘welcome to my house’ – it’s my space, it belongs to me and I am going to tell the stories that I want to tell,” says Thompson. Later this month at the Compass Festival in Leeds Thompson will present her work, Pat it and Prick It and Mark it With a B. At the same time at Barnsley Civic she will present a new work, Kummerspeck, as a work in progress. “It’s a beautiful German word that refers to the weight you put on from overeating as a result of grief.”

A second show I saw recently, and which is returning to the region next weekend, is Blind by the Paper Birds. A one-woman show featuring beatboxer Grace Savage, it is another exploration of what it means to be female in 2014. Savage is exceptionally talented, but her talent for beatboxing takes her into the world of hip hop, sometimes a hotbed of misogyny.

“I do feel like there is a new wave of female voices being heard,” she says. “I believe like I am seeing a counter culture fourth wave of feminism, where young women are standing up and saying ‘we have things to say’.” Both Thompson and Savage are 24 years old. “Young girls are growing up seeing that you can have a platform to say the things they want to say. I actually met the Paper Birds because I loved their work and what they were saying. It feels like those voices, like those of the Paper Birds, are still out there and telling young women that they can use these platforms too.”