Saturday 15th October
Empty Shop HQ
Review by Amrita Paul
‘What did you do to rebel today?’
I was asked this after one of the performers, already in character, welcomed me into the makeshift amphitheatre at Empty Shop HQ in Durham. At the risk of over-sharing, I have to admit that I had done nothing and would do nothing. On Saturday evening, I would come back to Newcastle, drink copious amounts of alcohol and be the recipient of the admission, ‘I think, I have always loved you, but I have never been in love with you.’
At the time of watching the play, I did not know that my life’s track was running parallel to Alice’s. She plays the protagonist; your modern, everyday woman, whose job everyday was to basically hold it together. To put up a brave face, baking cupcakes, helping elderly neighbours with their weekly shopping, reading for pleasure, keeping up with current affairs, never being hung-over on a weekday and also having polite little orgasms from time to time. Her only vice, I would say, is that she tried too hard. I know that because it is easy to guilt trip women and put them into a box. I know that because I could see women in the audience responding to the play in acknowledgement of the fact that, at least some parts of their lives, were being played out in front of them.
But this was a safe space, where they could play ‘pass the parcel’ and race plastic willies on the stage. They could jeer and laugh, crack terrible jokes and try to articulate what the word ‘fuck’ actually means. Thesmo was loud and boisterous, shocking because it is unapologetic and angry. It was, after all, evolved from the shared experiences of women in comedy workshops, who have been working against the myth that women are uptight and orderly. They can’t take a joke and they certainly can’t crack one.
Thesmophoriazusae was written 2,500 years ago, and this adaptation tries to shed light on the female friendships of today. Friendships, where we might be on the same boat of nicety, battling similar insecurities, but there is a self-inflicted pressure to be the one to bake the better cupcakes.
Most women are too afraid to stand in their own truth with a pained look of pretend contentment on their face. Thesmo is here to tell you that yes, cakes do matter, but you are not alone in your failures and resentments.
So, what I do to rebel today?
I learned to let go.