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The Yard Theatre, London

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 performance 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 over a woman, whose legs poke out the bottom. 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 needs a bit more introduction and at times doesn’t quite work as a taster of the show as it lacked direction. But with a funny beginning, and once you become acclimatised to the stand-alone nature of the monologue, it makes 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 is Lindy Nsingo with 6 Song Soapbox – an improvised mix of dance and witty comments. Banal elevator music plays between each song, during which a ‘random word generator’ produces words (e.g. spring, excavation, heavy) which inspire the movement and statements. It ends with a stirring monologue about the importance of the platform and the female voice. The moment ‘Money, Money, Money’ by ABBA comes on, I’m sold. This was beautiful and hilarious in equal measure and made for a very entertaining performance.

Post-interval we’re greeted with a naked Haley McGee performing a 90-second dare. Cartwheeling around the stage naked. The sheer courage involved is 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 takes us on an abrupt and very moving about-turn. She gives an immensely poignant speech, introducing her film Like Breath Not Breathing – a self-portrait of her experiences with chronic fatigue. She eloquently draws attention to the problems disabled artists face getting their voices heard, especially amidst swathes of welfare cuts. The film focuses 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 introduces the next act, SHHHH by Hannah Ballou, and then a sleeping baby in a pram is rolled onstage. Hannah follows close behind and introduces her performance – “dedicated to the women who could not afford childcare to be here tonight”. She discusses 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”. She then reads from her daughter’s favourite book, Feminist Baby, before lip-syncing to a loud rap. The child continues to sleep soundly, casting a spell over the audience – everyone is silent and the frequent laughs are only whispers. This was a magical moment in the show where fictional performance fused with reality.

We are ushered outside for the final performance – a human installation. Three women stand on separate platforms, each in a different pose, with music playing in the background. Gradually their muscles begin to shake and over the course of three or four different songs they begin to crumble. It makes for a very intense 10 minutes, to the point of getting uncomfortable – making 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.

  • Cabaret
  • By Grace Nicol
  • Cast includes: Holly Beasley Garrigan, Lindy Nsingo, Haley McGee, Elinor Rowlands, Hannah Ballou
  • The Yard Theatre, London

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