I stepped into the New Year by seeing a production at Soho Theatre by a theatre company, Belgian Ontroerend Goed (translated as Real Estate, according to Wikipedia), entitled ‘Sirens’. I knew it was to be experimental and that it would touch on Feminist issues.
It began in darkness. Six women came on stage, making noises that evoked the sound of the sea, alluding to the Greek myth where creatures portrayed as femme fatales would seduce sailors with their voice, leading them to crash against rocks and drown.
Soon the sounds of shorelines turned into screams, as the lights went up and the women stood with music sheets, dressed in distinctive opera gowns. It was piercing, loud and shrill. These thoughts entered my mind as I suddenly worried this was what would continue for the entire hour of the show. I then became conscious of the stereotypical views of women to be this way, simply for having a voice. How liberating, I thought, it must be to scream. I wanted to join in, but I restrained myself.
The concept was clearly to subvert this myth.
There was a humour from the onset, in the absurd. At first, I wasn’t sure how to take this. I enjoyed the exaggerated pouting scene for its comments on female sexuality. However, I found the pornography projection and stimulation of male masturbation unnecessary. Perhaps it was there to provoke, to contrast male and female sexuality. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering about issues of consent in regard to the pornographic images; where was the content from, and was it now art simply because it was in the theatre? Similarly the masturbation simulation aimed for humour out of the ridiculousness, and perhaps it would have worked better to have this going on alongside the exaggerated pouting scene. Otherwise, where exactly does female sexuality fit into this? For an issue as complex as pornography, the point could have been clearer here.
Humour was certainly an effective device throughout the performance. We first heard spoken word when each woman began to advertise different beauty creams and the respective prices, and then lipstick, with their voices overlapping, conveying the overwhelming nature of the beauty industry’s products; it touched on issues of Capitalism with the stark range of prices. Humour was again when one woman stood aside in a spotlight, reciting jokes about women that become more sexist and misogynistic as they go on; for example: why are women like parking spaces? – Because all the good ones are taken, and the rest are disabled. Some laughter came sporadically from the audience, and I wondered why; none of the jokes were genuinely funny, but laughter could have been due to shock, or familiarity at their ridiculousness.
Most of the audience were silent, and as the punch lines drifted off the end, each question or statement was a small stab in the stomach.
We get a sense of different characters more when we hear individual stories. Yet, each woman plays a multitude of different voices, with different stories. A pivotal moment in the play came when we heard a monologue from one woman deciding what to wear. The everyday realities depicted would be familiar to a lot of women. It made us laugh, but also contemplate, as stories switched and overlapped, and at certain points, we were told facts such as “there are some places where women have to wear a veil” and “there are some places where rape is the woman’s fault”. I felt that it could have benefited from a cast that were not all white, and although this could have been interpreted differently, because Western sexism is not seen as distinct from other areas of the world, I saw this interjection as a statement about patriarchy as a whole.
The problems within society which are connected to gender are a global issue, and the problems that may be seen as in significant are all part of the same system of power.
Another part which played with the light and dark of the everyday transpired when the women named endless female celebrities who they hated, elaborating every so often by calling them fat, or talentless, or old, or bitches, or “skanks”. I remembered my own admission of hate for Cheryl Cole (now Fernandez-Versini), and how this disappeared when I saw her breakdown into tears in a Piers Morgan interview. In this moment I knew that we need to hold on to empathy, and I vowed never to hate other women in this way again.
The play did not explicitly deliver the messages it carried, but allowed you to interpret for yourself. I watched the play with my parents. Both enjoyed it, but later my father commented on a part where a woman lists the many precautions she takes when out late at night. He heavily implied that I should take note of the tip to keep your headphones in but without sound, so that you can still be aware of your surroundings. This is what the character had said she’d done, and good advice it may be. However, I felt the point was rather missed here.
Society still holds the premise that women should find ways of preventing being raped, as opposed to teaching men not to rape (who, taking male victims of rape into account, are the main perpetrators of rape). This point was reinforced when one character was raped. This was signalled with a return to sound, as we heard a muffled scream, bodily movement, and painful crying. At the end, the women’s voices come together again in unity, in solidarity.
‘Sirens’ has now come to an end in London, and it was certainly a success. It explored the myth of woman, and liberated our tale from that which has been the creation of male dominance.