'Someone decides to keep going'
This was the moment in the performance where the power of words clicked into an intense focus. Keep going. Despite being a woman. Because you are a woman. That’s the central theme of this three-hander, self-referential ‘cabaret’ with music, penned by AJ Taudevin.
As the play opens, a small space lit in reds and pinks is filled with two women and one man. At times they felt like one person, and sometimes like a room full of people, due in no small part to unobtrusive and fluid choreography by Maryam Hamidi.
The prologue set the tone, as each actor skilfully threaded their lines into a seamless multiplicity of voices, reminiscent of a much edgier Under Milk Wood, using the repeated words ‘someone’ and ‘somewhere’. In a nod to the SMHAF, one of the lines was: ‘Someone picks up a brochure for a mental health festival.’ This image of ‘someone, somewhere’ becomes both a motif which linked the work together, and a way to bring the audience in: somewhere, became ‘near here’ and later just ‘here’.
The script is both enthusiastic, and self-aware: ‘It was nearly called The Rape Clause Cabaret!’ It holds no punches, nor becomes preachy or po-faced: laughs are plentiful throughout. The work covers a wide range of topics: Trump, and the Pussy Hat/Women’s marches which took place in the US. Direct connections to Brexit, and women’s portrayal in the media. A tutorial on the word ‘gaslighting’ and its origin. A good deal about the Rape Clause, with a chilling description provided in a Westminster quote, delivered perfectly by Annie Grace. In part, chilling because it creates an accurate representation of what Westminster sounds like, having one person make a speech, while a man shouts ‘moo, moo’ in the background.
Despite feeling very much ‘of its time,’ with several references to recent news and political events – the significance of attending this play on the day #MeToo was trending on Twitter – and the inclusion of historical references to Hippocrates’ definition of hysteria and quotes from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway gives the play a universal feel.
In a poignant ‘Testimony’ section, each actor voiced several quotes from women who have been silenced in the past. What was inspiring in those moments was watching the faces of the other actors onstage. It was particularly poignant to watch George Drennan, a token man for a change, listening, really listening.
The programme for the play includes lyrics to a song I Can’t Keep Quiet by Milck. Prospective attendees can relax: you will not be required to sing. But if, like me, you are so entranced by the play’s emotional and uplifting finale, you will leave humming the tune. There is nothing to keep quiet about here, Hysteria! is an entertaining but also important piece of theatre for the times we are living through. And not just for women, for all of us.
by Stella Hervey Birrell
Stella Hervey Birrell’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook here.
Hysteria! has now finished its run at Oran Mor and the Traverse Theatre, as part of A Play A Pie and A Pint, but we are hosting a drop-in workshop on Sexism & Mental Health at the Women of the World Festival in Perth. It takes place on Sat 28 Oct from 2-4.30pm.