“What if I told you that the origins of all magic, of all ritual, since the beginning of time was menstrual? Would you believe me?”
So begins this theatrical extravaganza of Dr Carnesky and her menstronauts, a self-proclaimed “smorgasbord of live art and new cabaret” that explores our relationships with menstruation both individually and as a collective.
How is it that in 2018 periods are still taboo? Still spoken of in hushed tones in schools and workplaces, still represented in advertising with blue liquid, still euphemistically referred to ‘women’s’ troubles’ or even worse, ‘the curse’? This show not only breaks this taboo, but methodically takes it apart bit by back, examining it from all angles, tackling the subject in a way that is at turns celebratory, transgressive, poignant and revelatory.
The crux of the show is the “menstrual rituals” as performed by Carnesky and her four menstronauts, devised over the course of several months as a collective in Southend-on-Sea. As Carnesky explains, they were driven by a mutual desire to engage with the potent magic of menstruation and harness the power therein to devise their own performative rituals as a manifestation of feminist menstrual energy.
Established neo-burlesque performer and hair-hanger Fancy Chance’s wordless performance is wry and surprising; her nudity and silence exuding power rather than vulnerability. Haitch Plewis’ ritual is gleefully absurd yet hilarious, whilst extraordinary sword-swallower MisSa Blue conjures an incredible tension. Particularly affecting is the warmth of Rhyannon Styles’ presence as she gently explains her relationship with menstruation as a transgender woman. The inclusion of a trans experience in the show serves to lift and acknowledge that the menstrual ritual isn’t limited to women who physically bleed every month; of course, many women don’t.
The show’s structure allows for each performer to return to the stage to digest their own relationship to menstruation and even to explain in part the origins of each ritual, thereby dissipating any excluding esoterism of the performance art genre, a move that makes the show accessible without sacrificing the level of art.
Something much more than a simple celebration of menstrual bleeding (though it does include a great deal of fake blood), Dr Carnesky’s incredible Bleeding Woman addresses that both periods and the lack thereof can be troubling, inconvenient and even devastating. Carnesky herself as a performer is nothing short of a virtuoso in her field, in exploring the mythological and political aspects of menstruation through the lens of experimental cabaret.
Though the show might be considered a bit ‘out there’ for a mainstream audience, the variation of performers onstage allows for diverse voices presented through visually striking avant-garde performance art cabaret. As the show evolves of the course of the hour and a bit, it morphs into something bigger; the makings of a socio-political movement.
Dr Carnesky’s incredible Bleeding Woman is playing at the Soho Theatre until 24 November. For more information and tickets, click here