Every week, for one week only, we are showcasing a film of a theatre show from a previous SMHAF, with brand new programme notes. First up is Hysteria!, a political cabaret by Julia Taudevin from 2017.
Hysteria! was, arguably, the first theatre show of the #MeToo movement.
The show premiered at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival on Monday 9 October 2017, the day after film producer Harvey Weinstein was sacked from his company following a series of accusations of sexual misconduct. It was a global news story, and Hysteria!’s subject matter - rape culture, gaslighting, the impact of institutional sexism on women’s mental health – felt eerily timely. The audience discussions during its two-week run were a powerful opportunity for people to process what was happening.
Written by Julia Taudevin and directed by Clare Duffy, Hysteria! was described as “a darkly comic political cabaret for our times, partly inspired by the 2016 US election and the 2017 global women’s marches”. The show grew out of conversations between Julia and the Mental Health Foundation about the political rise of Donald Trump, a man who – just a few days before he was elected as US president – had been caught on tape boasting about sexually assaulting women. Many women said the election had a grave effect on their mental health. If a man like this could become US president, what message did it send globally about male attitudes and behaviour towards women? On 21 January 2017, the Women’s March in Washington saw almost half a million people protesting against his inauguration, with many more taking part across the world.
It was in this context that, in April 2017, Julia began working with the Mental Health Foundation on a project exploring the impact of sexism on women’s mental health. Around a hundred women were interviewed, both individually and during a day of group sessions at The Dust of Everyday Life, an arts and mental health conference led by the Mental Health Foundation. Men were excluded from these sessions so that women could speak freely and safely.
These conversations were the starting point for Hysteria!, a cabaret-style show that combined sharply satirical songs and sketches – including one about the history of the term ‘gaslighting’ – with conversations lifted verbatim from those interviews. The show climaxed with the cast – Maryam Hamidi, George Drennan and Annie Grace – singing I Can’t Keep Quiet by MILCK, the song that famously became an anthem for women protesting against Trump in 2017.
Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo aren’t referred to in Hysteria! – the Weinstein story broke just as rehearsals were finishing, and the #MeToo hashtag first appeared on Twitter a few days after the show opened. While the reviews were very positive – the Guardian called it “a dynamite hour of sexual politics” - at the time the world was more focused on the sudden avalanche of other sexual misconduct stories than artistic responses to them. SMHAF is therefore delighted to be showcasing Hysteria! again as part of our online programme, in the form of Duncan Cowles’ film of the performance. While many things have changed since 2017, this show is as relevant as ever and deserves a wider audience. We would like to thank Oran Mor’s Play a Pie and a Pint programme for supporting the original production, a bold choice on their part.
Julia Taudevin writes:
“Hysteria! was a huge moment in my life and I will always be grateful to SMHAF for enabling it. When I learned that the research would result in a show for the Oran Mor it felt natural to hearken back to making political cabarets with the great David Maclennan for the same audience. David taught me that as a writer I should keep an audience laughing whilst showing them uncomfortable truths. I kept this at the forefront of my mind as I transitioned from researcher to writer and I am fiercely proud of the resulting production.
“The show opened amidst a freakish whirlwind of thematically relevant moments in my life both personally and politically. It opened the day after I finished a tour in which my own experience of workplace abuse was described as ‘adding to the dramatic tension’, and to this day has never been acted upon by anyone I have reported it to; it opened five days before the #MeToo hashtag hit and transformed much of mainstream media's ‘heard-it-all-before’ attitude into something more respectful; and it opened a week before I personally stood up to my childhood abuser and began identifying as a survivor. I am 100% confident that connecting with so many incredible survivors through the research process and navigating that research as a writer was key to me coming out the other side of this extraordinary moment in my life a stronger, happier and healthier person. And I am absolutely delighted that audiences can once again enjoy the wild and wonderful political cabaret that we made.”
by Andrew Eaton-Lewis
Image by Oran Mor
The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is led by the Mental Health Foundation.
This film of Hysteria! is available for free but if you would like to support SMHAF, you can 'pay what you can' here.