14th October, 2018
Durham Town Hall
Review by Shauna Lewis
Despite feeling ashamed for knowing barely any of the women presented to me, Kate Fox’s piece Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras, was insightful, hilarious and thought-provoking.
When complaining about the lack of female representation in various industries, women are often presented with ‘well, sometimes it’s just that there aren’t any women to do the job’. Fox methodically tears this theory out by the root. She goes through women in every sector you can think of: leaders and activists, writers, politicians, sportswomen, creatives and the appropriately-named ‘mould-breakers’. It is an inspiring piece of work, but saddening to see how easily these women have been forgotten in favour of their male counterparts. Take the recent example of Tim Peake, seen as the first Brit in space – yet as Fox reminds us, Helen Sharman was there 25 years ago.
Events like this always come with a certain amount of trepidation. Although great for women, often they can ignore women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities. Once again, however, Fox delivered: she celebrated Lillian Bader, one of the first black women in the RAF; Tanni Grey-Thompson, three-time Paralympic World Cup medallist; and Anne Lister, a famous diarist known for her open lesbian lifestyle in the 1800s. There could have been more diversity, but it was an event where all women were made to feel included and inspired.
Actor Joanna Holden played various women throughout. Recurring here was Hilda Baker, an English comedian. For most of the performance, I was under the impression it was simply a recurring joke about her character. By the end though, Holden acknowledged what an influence Baker had had on her as an actor and how she wanted to bring her back to the forefront. It made for a reflective moment on the whole piece where, although we as the audience had learnt a lot, it also forced us to think why we hadn’t heard about all of these ground-breaking women.
Without Baker, we might not have had the likes of Victoria Wood or even Kate Fox. The same goes for most of the women celebrated in Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras, and their contemporary successors of whom we now know. All of these women (and undoubtedly so many more) have been brushed aside for far too long. Although it may be late, Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras shows us we are able to give them the commemoration they so richly deserve.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.