2013: Feminism Rising? – On the ‘Eve’ of Ensler’s ‘One Billion Rising’

When I pause to think of feminism and theatre in 2012, two book-ended images come to mind: two ‘top’ tables, the one female and the other male. The tables in question are Caryl Churchill’s opening dinner scene in Top Girls and Laura Wade’s all-boys, ‘posh’ table (as blogged previously on this site https://dramaqueensreview.com/2012/09/08/posh-laura-wade/). Seeing Max Stafford-Clark’s revival of Top Girls early in 2012 was a salutary reminder of how very much feminism is still urgently needed. The particular moment that has stayed with me from this production was the drunken frenzy at the close of the scene, spiralling into a ‘bun fight’ between Pope Joan, Dull Gret and the audience: ‘Let them eat bread’ was the cry from the stage as Gret hurled bread rolls at Joan, who in turn batted them back at spectators. Spattered in breadcrumbs (I was in the front couple of rows in the stalls at the Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds), I felt the revived political charge of the play: the angry riposte at a world still not equal-righted. There is an excellent ‘in conversation’ with Stafford-Clark where he talks about directing the play twenty years on from its original – well worth a listen: http://www.outofjoint.co.uk/prods/top-girls-in-conversation.html. In particular, what he stresses is the centrality of Angie’s ‘frightening’ story to the play for the contemporary moment and the ways in which under Conservative governments (including the current, Tory-dominated Coalition) the poor have got poorer in comparison to the New Labour years (whatever one might otherwise think of Blair’s administration). With statistics to hand, he presses home the point of widening inequalities, urging the social attentions that need to be paid to to-day’s ‘bottom girls’.
As Churchill’s dinner scene haunts my memory of Posh and of the privileged male (soon-to-be-entering-the-corridors-of-political-power) classes behaving badly in their private dining club, so the ‘us and them’ divide at the core of Top Girls resurfaces. While that divide obtains in one sense, as Stafford-Clark attests, to our society at large, in another way it marks the need for the failure in solidarity between women of all classes to be addressed. So it is with this in mind that on the eve of Ensler’s ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign, I look forward to what I hope will become visible: a sign of global solidarity between women (joined by men) expressing, in a performative way, their united hope for an end to violence against women. Critics might dismiss this as little more than a utopian gesture, but faced with the fact that women world-wide continue to suffer from violence and still endure ‘bottom-girl’ lives, for women to be moved in solidarity towards each other feels, at this time, like an important gesture to make.
Elaine

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One thought on “2013: Feminism Rising? – On the ‘Eve’ of Ensler’s ‘One Billion Rising’

  1. Beginning to think we should start saying ‘nothing less than a utopian gesture’. Even though both ‘utopian’ and ‘gesture’ seem to suggest inefficacy, a lot of utopian gestures might add up to a new kind of dance.

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