Heroine – Traverse Theatre

Writer: Mary Jane Wells

Director: Susan Worsfold

At the heart of this production, a prime example of raw, honest theatre, is the life story of Danna Davis. Adapted in a brutal, purposeful way, Heroine hasn’t been crafted by writer and performer Mary Jane Wells as a sob story, nor a hate piece – it’s a profound amalgam of anger, outrage, fragility and survival.

Five stools, five spotlights – one story. Danna Davis, a woman serving in the United States military who must work, live and survive among those who have sexually assaulted her; those who threaten her life, and the lives of those she loves every day. More than this, it’s a story for anyone in the room, those at home and both Wells and Davis, ensuring silence is no longer an associate of perpetrators.

Written in a variety of fashions, Well’s production combines metaphorical lyricism with gritty, literal expression to demonstrate both the innate power of the human condition, as well as the fragility we all share. Rather than an extensive discussion of the sexual assault Davis experienced, a contained segment is all which is required, a lacerating depiction of the event, hushing what feels like the world for a few minutes as Well’s dedication and respect for the role speaks volumes. Cast in George Tarbuck’s lighting design, it’s a harrowing piece of beautiful theatre design, even as it uncovers the degeneracy and retaliation within our armed forces.

An assault on the senses, Matt Padden’s effective sound design is disorientating at times, though this is inherently the idea behind such design. Loud, invasive and immediate, the stark change of everyday noises into PTSD situations triggers the transformation which pushes Heroine beyond observational. It’s sensory theatre, quite possibly one of the few shows which would work equally as a radio or audio drama.

Remarkably personal, Well’s writing captures (we suspect) as close an account of Davis’ experience as possible. In a haunting way, it’s a beautifully written production – distressingly lyrical, wrapping such vile, grim reality in a vexing garb which, despite its subject matter, is funny, touching, engaging and in some morbid sense – comforting. Well’s performance conveys the process of grief, just as equally as the process of aggression and forgiveness, and in tandem with Susan Worsfold’s wonderfully simplistic, yet effective direction builds rapport with the audience quickly.

Perhaps a result of the heightened emotional nexus, Heroine finds itself an overflow of intense moments. Never detracting from the message, structurally it causes halts and wobbles in a production which otherwise is a pinnacle of honesty. With how rooted Well’s writing is in the life of another, and the experiences of so many, there’s little wonder that emotion bubbles over, occasionally taking Wells out of her role as Davis, throwing her off.

The fact we sit in 2020, with powerful productions such as Well’s still a necessity to offer a release, opening dialogue for those experiencing sexual assault and retaliation while serving in the armed forces, is beyond explanation, but it’s a story we need to hear. A story we must preserve, ensuring that for as long as sexual assaults within any workplace, especially those who defend our nations, continues, that there remain a stark reminder and avenue of exploration for all.

Review originally published for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/heroine-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit: Greg Macvean

A Crown of Laurels – Paradise in Augustines

Written & Directed by Ryan Hay

Composition & Musical Direction by Lavie Rabinovitz

Design by Danielle Connally

Choose your favourite sexual abuse paintings”, this is a quotation from the website Fine Art America. Wanton Theatre Co presents A Crown of Laurels, an adaptation of Apollo & Daphne, of which the attempted rape of a Greecian nymph by God Apollo is the subject.

Daphne wants to have fun; she’s been planning this evening for months now. Finally, her sisters and friends are all together and about to get leathered. The night doesn’t go to plan, separating from the group, Daphne finds herself in the arms of Olly. Daphne hopes to have found a connection she has been longing for. Olly, a handsome, middle-class white junior lawyer, has other ideas.

In terms of adaptation, it’s by the books. Little has profound development, and if you’re familiar with the original tale or Caroline Kepnes novels – you know the likely outcome. Or, so you would suspect. For the most part, the first act is pleasant, with amiable, at times compelling, vocals courtesy of Herron.

Projection is an issue within Paradise Sanctuary if you don’t have mic set-ups. Although allowing for the live band to receive the correct acoustics, it’s audibility drowns out vocals.

Aesthetically, A Crown of Laurels is stripped back – reliance is on the live band, performance elements and writing. There are however a series of glasses, drinks and cocktails sitting across the stage. In pairs, they are small reminders of the setting, a minute touch showing a working mind behind tiny details.

We suffer drawback in the character of Olly, who, while attempts are made to make him interesting, is notably flat. Hurley in no way turns out poor performance, but he’s overwhelmed by Herron who brings tighter vocals and diverse emotion.

Then it hits, like a truck laden with uncomfortable, unknown by many, truth. A serious monologue about the art world today is the real merit of this production. Faultless in execution, there’s a sense of glass-like fragility in Herron’s voice, but her command of the stage is iron. To discuss the profit made from sexual abuse, desensitisation in the arts community is noble cause we applaud. It’s an issue in discussion for theatrics circles, but less so in the arts community.

A Crown of Laurels has protentional to ripple a community with its direct approach towards the billion-dollar profit on the back of under-age ‘subjects’ and painters historic sexual abuse. With investable characterisation, projection and clearer vocals there’s a defining play here.

The Vagina Monologues – Festival Theatre, The Studio

Play by Eve Ensler

Information relating to the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Charity can be found at their website: https://www.ercc.scot

Say it with me everyone: “Vagina”. Say it even louder for the men in the back. The Vagina Monologues, for all its criticism, may be one of the most influential theatrical texts ever put into production. There’s a reason why two decades later it is still built upon. July 7th saw a reading of Eve Ensler’s episodic play which looks into female body image, sexual experiences (consensual and non), sex work and a variety of other topics. Monologues from the play focus on sexual assault, comfort women and body image are given a platform in aid of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, with 100% of all profits benefiting the charity.

Despite a mere two weeks rehearsal time, the five performers onstage channel a staggering level of commitment, professionalism and heart. Their performances are nothing short of heart-wrenching. Not only because of their embedded talents, but a tremendous amount lies in the fact that these women aren’t acting, despite the accents, the laughs and the characters. The stories they are telling, the cause they are hosting this evening for – is their lives.

In aid of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, the reading is compressed into appropriate material to remain on subject. There’s a clever balance of topic foundation, easing those unfamiliar before communicating the facts, hatreds and degeneracy of reality. For over forty years, ERCC continues to provide emotional, mental and practical support for women, non-binary, young people and the trans community. As if this service wasn’t enough, they engage with a plethora of preventative discussion, information and much-sought advocacy for those who have experienced sexual violence at any time in their life.

Every year, a new ‘chapter’ is added into The Vagina Monologues following the inspiration day known as V-Day. In 2006, a segment on Comfort Women was added, this is what closes out our performance – tightening the link between the chosen text and tonight’s charity. Last year TIME magazine tore open a subject many prefer to forget, the ‘punishment’ many women faced following the Second World War. The sequence is nothing short of a mountainous emotional smack of truth. All of the frustrations and agony women suffer placed on the floor in-front of us with the utterance “now what”. Anyone who has given their time for the evening has done something noteworthy, from the performers to the lighting operators and of course, the front of the house.

A heap of gratitude is to be given to Capital Theatres and Linda from customer service who listened to one women’s cry of: “I’m angry, and I need to do something about this”. Help is precisely what we in a creative community can strive to do. We have a position of accessibility, a presence to mobilise and a space to offer those who not only have a production to stage, but a message to encourage and even better a charity to empower.

Productions like these make you want to write. They make you want to type furiously for days and days and weeks and years until something, anything is done. There’s only so far outrage can extend before action is the response. Because here’s the secret. People are tired. They’re tired of rape culture, rape jokes and judicial decisions on what constitutes rape. We’re tired of putting our keys between our knuckles on a late walk home. Tired of seeing wealthy, ‘good family’ men walk free, and we’re beyond exhausted of the shaming, punishment and hushed words around women who courageously come forward.

I use the term ‘we’ rather than women because it is we. It’s you, me and everyone you know. This evening isn’t only about performance. It’s a rallying call that after all this time, we still need to have charity evenings like this. One day, The Vagina Monologues will (hopefully) stage its performances for history, rather than to protect the future. It will be staged as a way to remind ourselves what we fought for, instead of what we are still fighting for.

Until then, dig deep. Donate your time, your money and offer your support to the likes of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre. Sometimes it isn’t all about the money. You can help challenge abusive behaviour, encourage and support others to speak out – but most importantly to believe those who come to you disclosing sexual violence. This evening isn’t solely about the harrows of life, but the joys in coming together to establish a conversation. From a women’s first period, to the thrill in discovering her body – and the insecurities around this. You’ll be left curious, angry, empowered, enraged and have had a few chuckles too.

And if, like these five young women you are able – perform. Write, sing, shriek, holler, dance – do whatever we can to keep these stories alive and in the faces of those who would rather they faded into obscurity. That’s precisely what an archaic system would like – silence. So, let’s say it one last time: “Vagina”, because nothing upsets the Patriarchy quite like a pussy which roars.