Woman SRSLY is a platform founded in 2017 by Grace Nicol, designed to showcase female-identified artists’ work and encourage female performance. It runs every 4 months, and the one I am fortunate enough to attend takes place at the Yard Theatre, nestled in a beautiful collage of welcoming buildings in Hackney.
Through the medium of dance, The Yonis – SRSLY’S “Resident Movement Girlband” – usher the audience into the theatre, to be greeted by clothes bundled on the concrete floor and a Groovy Chick duvet cover hanging from a washing line, hanging over a woman. Valerie Ebuwa, the enthusiastic and friendly MC for the night, introduces the first act: Holly Beasley Garrigan with an extract from her solo show, ‘Opal Fruits’. Holly asks for an audience member to volunteer themselves by shouting their name on the count of three. Lucy stands up, and Holly asks her to dress her according to the traits of the character she is about to become. This relaxes the audience beautifully as Lucy enlists our help to decide which clothes fit the bill. Once dressed as her four-year-old character, Holly gives a monologue on ‘Opal Fruits’, sensuously detailing the experience of eating one. The monologue needed a bit more introduction and at times didn’t quite work as a taster of the show as it lacked direction. But with a funny beginning, and once you had acclimatised to the stand-alone nature of the monologue, it made for a very enjoyable act. It will be performed in its entirety on the 25th of April at the Camden People’s Theatre.
Next up came Lindy Nsingo with 6 Song Soapbox – an improvised mix of dance and witty comments. Banal elevator music played between each song, during which a ‘random word generator’ produced words (e.g. spring, excavation, heavy) which would inspire the movement and statements. It ended with a stirring monologue about the importance of the platform and the female voice. The moment ‘Money, Money, Money’ by ABBA came on, I was sold. This was beautiful and hilarious in equal measure and made for a very entertaining performance.
Post-interval we were greeted with a naked Haley McGee performing a 90-second dare. Cartwheeling around the stage naked. The sheer courage involved was tremendous, and once the initial gasp of surprise had passed, I realised how refreshing it was to see a normal naked body when we’re surrounded by so much photoshop and digital enhancement. Brilliantly executed cartwheels as well.
Elinor Rowlands’ piece took us on an abrupt and very moving about-turn. She gave an immensely poignant speech, introducing her film Like Breath Not Breathing – a self-portrait of her experiences with chronic fatigue. She eloquently drew attention to the problems disabled artists face getting their voices heard, especially amidst swathes of welfare cuts. The film focused on her face, morphing into a kaleidoscope effect as she lies in bed, unable to get up. The room’s reaction to her piece was heart-warming and the support for her excellently delivered message was tangible, creating a very special moment. The audience was palpably receptive to Elinor’s voice and hugely inspired.
There was a brief pause as Valerie introduced the next act, SHHHH by Hannah Ballou, and then a sleeping baby in a pram was rolled onstage. Hannah followed close behind and introduced her performance – “dedicated to the women who could not afford childcare to be here tonight”. She discussed our presence in one of many possible “parallel universes” which included the baby waking up, crying, an audience member turning into a duck, and one, crazy as it seems, “where artists can afford childcare”. And then read from her daughter’s favourite book, Feminist Baby, before lip-syncing to a loud rap. The child continued to sleep soundly, casting a spell over the audience – everyone went silent and the frequent laughs were only whispers. This was a magical moment in the show where fictional performance fused with reality.
We were ushered outside for the final performance – a human installation. Three women were standing on separate platforms, each in a different pose, with music playing in the background. Gradually their muscles began to shake and over the course of three or four different songs they began to crumble. It was a very intense 10 minutes to the point of getting uncomfortable – this made the audience acutely aware of viewing humans as pieces of art.
Look out for the next Woman SRSLY event in August – it will give you a feast of female inventiveness.