Far, far away, out in the treacherous zone 3, is Styx. Open both day and night, it boasts chilled out seating areas, a bar, a pizza joint, and Theatre N16. It’s tucked away down a road; just a stone’s throw away from Tottenham Hale tube station. It’s so tucked away that I didn’t even know it was there, despite passing through Tottenham Hale almost every day. Originating in Stoke Newington, the company was forced to move to Balham in 2015, but as of March this year, Theatre N16 have been based at Styx, where they continue their ethos of allowing theatre companies to produce work at low costs. One of which being TOBECONFIRMED Theatre who bring us Six Attempts to Swallow a Scream.
Comprising an all-female team, Becky Jones, Caitlin Evans, Megan Saunders, Jemima Evans, Georgie King and Elspeth McColl, Six Attempts to Swallow a Scream is a “devised piece, stemming from a mutual angst with the stigmatisation of female rage.” The piece, through sound, movement and dance, explores the “frustrations of being women and artists.” Just under an hour, and clad in nude shorts and sports bras, the five girls dance, sweat, pant, and rip apart or consume various sized oranges, satsumas and cartons of orange juice. Side note: if you have misophonia, and like me, the sounds of slurping from noisy eaters fills you with rage, then you’ll spend a fair amount of time with your fingers discreetly over your ears as the girls perform, what I’m confident, is the loudest consumption of an orange ever, into a microphone, ASMR style, only to play it on a loop for the next few minutes.
It’s fairly obvious that the orange motif is a metaphor for something, the rage itself perhaps? The societal pressure put upon a woman to keep her emotions, specifically her anger, in check, as not to be branded hysterical? I’m not entirely sure. There is a scene in which two of the girls, using the trappings of the modern women as medical scrubs (think bra as a mask, knickers on head, sundress on backwards) and sterilising their hands with orange juice, perform “surgery” on an orange. Removing a piece from the centre, they then reseal the skin and pump it full of juice from a carton. Sadly, the surgery is unsuccessful and the orange flatlines anyway. What did it mean? I’ve no idea. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did.
While a little ambiguous and at times slow, Six Attempts to Swallow a Scream isn’t entirely unenjoyable. Technical difficulties meant we were sitting in the dark for five minutes mid-performance, but the cast handled it with grace. Their use of sound and movement is definitely experimental and slightly bizarre, although I don’t feel it always captures the frustration of suppressed female emotion, let alone rage. But there are moments between pairings of the girls which exemplify the strength and importance of female friendship, like beautiful visuals of them carrying one another, or posing with their various citrus fruits like ancient goddesses. I wanted to love this piece, but it feels a little too abstract to punch home any points about the female experience. With more substance and less style, this could better address a virtually undiscussed issue.
Six Attempts to Swallow a Scream is playing at Theatre N16 until 20 September. For further information and tickets, please click here.