After five days at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’ve taken a pick of five Feminist pieces to review. Known for the extensive comedy programme, three of these are comedy acts, and then I’ve thrown in some poetry and theatre for good measure.
Kitten Killers are: Kat, Fran and Perdita. They let the audience into their world through offering us glow-stick bracelets, asking questions for us to answer ‘woof’ and pulling out bras from under their clothes, which then becomes clown-style endless scarves. The threesome are best at their use of puns, their subtle political edge, and – of course – their incredible facial expressions. They are also completely ridiculous. One example is their period song about the tax on sanitary products (the first show of three others throughout the Fringe to bring this up through the medium of comedy). This sketch included George Osborne masks and dancing as we learnt that items such as Jaffa Cakes, exotic meats and aircraft repairs are tax-free, whilst tampons and sanitary towels are taxed as “non-essential, luxury items” (a petition is set up to counter this, and can be signed here).
Comedy is notoriously difficult for women to work within, and yet I felt compelled to include a token man here (not a real token in the true sense of the word, obviously). I decided to see the show on a whim, and I was refreshed by the content. Firstly, the piece itself being about a man searching for love – not something the patriarchy would consider to be very masculine. Secondly, one of the opening topics was a discussion of Richard Dawkins’ views on being raped by someone you know being different (not as bad) as that by a stranger.
Thankfully, Stephen was rebuking his views. You may think that’s not so radical of me to be pleased about, but when you consider the popularity of comedians who laugh at rape/the victim rather than at the perpetrator, and the fact that this view is surprisingly common, it puts Stephen’s show into perspective. Although his act wasn’t perfect (for example, there was a slut-shaming slur, though in the context of an anecdote), he came across as a genuine nice guy, and not just a Nice Guy™. Hopefully there’s a nice Feminist woman out there for him.
You may have heard of Kate Smurthwaite’s gig on free speech being cancelled by Goldsmiths University. You might even agree that she is The Wrong Sort of Feminist. I’ve seen her perform a few times, and there have certainly been points where I haven’t 100% agreed with the views she put across. She began by highlighting some of the ways that society is sexist, and how this can lead to the dangerous form of misogyny where we get statistics about two women a week being killed by a partner or ex-partner. There were some men behind me who were initially defensive, and throughout the gig, it seemed like they turned into being pleasantly surprised not only by the factual accuracy, but by the hilarity of Smurthwaite’s delivery. She joked about the Goldsmiths incident being great publicity, but really, it was apparent that Smurthwaite is not jumping on the Feminist bandwagon like those such as Lily Allen and the cast of TOWIE.
She has done her time; she’s fought on the front-line of Feminism, and regularly campaigns against injustice alongside her successful comedic career. Although her confession at appearing on Couples Come Dine With Me may make you dismiss her as a fame-hungry Feminist, I have to admit that I would totally grab that opportunity too. Smurthwaite is a natural comic – she is conversational, smiley, likeable, but equally angry, passionate, forceful – because, as she put it, she is capable of multiple emotional states. She speaks out about the importance of choice, of being critical and the mirage of binary oppositions. Oh, and she’s funny.
This was a show I would have loved to have written and performed in – if only I was professional actress and able to master the act of sitting on the pole. By Bent Theatre Company, featuring Amy Bellwood, Anais Alvarado and Lyndal Marwick, this verbatim theatre piece challenged preconceptions of pole dancing through the voices they projected. They challenged the problems within the sex industry – the seedy side that pole dancing gets tied to (despite the girls and women in these clubs often not having any technical ability to actually pole dance). It voiced everything I thought about the art of pole dancing, and most significantly, the point that it is something playful and fun, as innocent as children spinning on poles. Yes, in adulthood it can be sexual, or sensual, but it can also be the complete opposite. It is often packaged as something sexy, but if you’ve ever taken up the sport you’ll know – there’s nothing sexy about those bruises. Except of course, that strength, confidence and determination can be pretty sexy.
The last prominent feature of this overview is a poet called Hannah Chutzpah. The setting couldn’t have been more apt, as artist and audience members were greeted with the harsh reality of what it can be to take up space in a patriarchal society as a woman. This is a reality of social conditioning, where so-called “alpha-males” must jockey for position by a means of intimidation, using misogynistic sexual comments to do so.
Most of the show was done outside of the venue as a result of such intimidation (I certainly won’t be going back to Pilgrim ever again). It was interesting to think about the different aspects of “permission” and how to gain the confidence not to ask for it, or wait for it. Chutzpah took us on a journey through these ideas, as more informative sections were woven between poems on related subject matters. It was the kind of show that didn’t just end at the final applause, but will undoubtedly be carried throughout each audience member’s life.