As I enter the Yard, I’m greeted by a collection of brightly suited women called the Yonis, who methodically weave bananas through each other’s limbs. This introductory act serves as a warm-up for both the cast and the audience, and after a few minutes of loosely lucid conversation we’re ushered inside to sit as one in a tub of sisterly sweat, taking the midsummer heat with us.
Branded as an interdisciplinary evening of film, dance, theatre and cabaret, Woman SRSLY’s seventh instalment is at once subversive and celebratory. The evening is composed of six distinctive acts, each of which forge mutable notions of womanhood; they grapple with the corporeal reality of the female body whilst also preaching introspective self-love. The wonderful presenter Valerie Ebuwa sustains the evening’s momentum with her unbridled energy between acts, as she crucially threads together the disparate themes. Woman SRSLY also run a mentoring scheme and the happy quirky lyrics of Noa Carvajal’s performance of ‘Follow Home’ represent one of the scheme’s many successes.
The Afrofuturist Rebekah Ubuntu begins the proceedings with her audio-visual experience that pays homage to Mae Carol Jemison, who, in 1992, became the first African American woman to travel into space. Time and space intersect, as the voice of a transfeminist cyborg melds with footage of our pagan past and our astrological future: female identity is aptly situated within indeterminacy, transition and exploration. Ubuntu’s act is followed by trans dancer Rukeya Monsur, who elegantly reclaims her body by slinking around the stage to a pulsating rhythm, initiating us into her rituals of self-defence.
Teracle Holasz’s extract of ‘Pigs’ also seeks to unfix boundaries – both literary and bodily ones – in its retelling of the Daedalus myth. At times, the pole dancing takes centre stage and our attention is overwhelmingly directed towards eroticised bodies rather than meaning or character. By leaving a potentially juicy tale to fade into the background, the nuances of class and gender feel a little under-explored.
Next up is stand up. Katie O’Brien’s ‘Catch 22 Years’ is a parodic stab at group therapy that initiates a dialogue surrounding the trauma of addiction. Following in the footsteps of post-modernism, she packages her emotions in self-deprecating irony, though a harrowing sadness lies as the core of her black humour. By far the most interactive experience of the evening, O’Brien’s reign of the stage is commanding in its ability to continually elicit laughter and empathy from a receptive crowd.
And finally, a beautiful randomness prevails. The suited and booted Yonis march back on stage, each armed with a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. Visceral toothbrushing is complimented by visceral spitting – I’m still pondering upon the meaning of this bizarre finale. Are they parading private routines of beautification in public spaces? Or is it something to do with the disintegrating boundary between dirt and hygiene? The interpretation is well and truly up for grabs – as is the definition of ‘woman’. Fun, reflective and fiercely other, I look forward to what Woman SRSLY cook up next.
Woman SRSLY Seven played at The Yard Theatre on 4 July. For more information, visit The Yard Theatre website.