Simon Ward reviews Where Have All Our Women Gone? at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre
Elizabeth Huskisson is the driving force behind this. As writer, director, producer and performer, it is clearly a deeply personal piece. She is utterly committed to it and determined to get her message across, in the face of media prurience and society’s indifference. And her message is a simple one – violence, up to and including rape and murder, perpetrated against women and girls is commonplace, unrelenting, and nothing is being done to change that fact.
As a performer she almost seems possessed in her struggle to articulate and make her audience understand the horror behind the numbers and the headlines. Using a mixture of real and imagined material, she conjures up a world – our world – where no woman can ever really feel safe. On a stage strewn with newspaper, she reels off incident after sickening incident. She opens with a heartbreaking plea to Sarah Everard – ‘don’t get into the car, Sarah’. It is unbearable to think about. And, as a result, most of the time, we do not. Perhaps a brief shiver over a headline, a fleeting thought before moving on to the rest of our lives. But that is not really good enough. Huskisson is at pains to point out that ‘every woman you know’, at one time or another, has felt threatened, taken evasive action, got off the bus a stop too soon.
She also has plenty of satirical venom to direct at the apologists for the state of the world, where the onus is placed on the women to ‘keep themselves safe’, such as the senior police officer who advised that women should acquaint themselves with the law, or the ‘not all men’ internet commentators. She is particularly scathing about the industry around protective kit – rape alarms, high-vis clothing, pepper spray – as it is actually monetising the threat rather than dealing with it.
This is a piece of political theatre, not a lecture. Huskisson shifts between multiple roles and personas, as a kind of MC, aided by Louie Johnston-Ward’s clever music and sound design. Among the most effective of the personas in satirical terms is an American gameshow host or infomercial spokesperson. Viewed under that light, the grotesque absurdity is brought into focus. But the most touching scenes are probably the most personal. When she talks about a friend growing up whose dad would always come and collect them wherever they were, whatever the time. She thought this was odd, even embarrassing, at the time, but now realises what a gift it was. And yet, what a terrible indictment of the way the world is.
An uncomfortable but necessary watch, I wonder whether the piece manages to do more than remind us of what we already subconsciously know. It may have been more effective theatrically to deal with perhaps one or two cases. Nevertheless, it is clear that this is a very personal cri de coeur and perhaps it was necessary to bring home the all-pervasive nature of the problem. Emerging out of the maelstrom, the poignancy of returning to Sarah Everard, and the plea not to get into that car, really hits home.
Where Have All Our Women Gone? runs at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, 42-44 Gaisford Street, Kentish Town, London NW5 2ED until 27th May
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