The premise of 2Gal Theatre Company’s Words Without Consent excites me: written and acted by two women (Ellen Patterson and Katie Rice), it promises to deliver a commentary on the impact of political rhetoric on women in contemporary society. It does this through a verbatim script; every word we hear comes from the mouth of either a politician or an interview with a real women. Whilst I find that the play strikes a balance between ridicule and gravity, I believe that more can be done to make it a truly inclusive, meaningful look at the current political landscape.
The structure of the play switches from an “increasingly out of control debate” between two political leaders to a scene of two women getting ready to go out. The back of the stage is set up for the debate, whereas the front is set up like a bedroom. Patterson and Rice each take on two roles and do so with ease, walking from the back to the front of the stage, and transitioning between different accents and body languages. At times, it feels as though the structure of the play does not flow; the constant switching leaves me feeling as though the point trying to be made in each segment has not been fully explored, and the characters of the two women getting ready are not fleshed out at all – we don’t even find out their names.
However, upon reflection, leaving these women nameless makes an important point. The experiences they talk about, ranging from catcalling to rape, are practically universal for women. As revealed by a recent survey for UN Women UK, four-fifths of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed. The women on stage stand for all of us – leaving them nameless makes this point poignantly. To add to this, in between segments there are recent news items and interviews projected on a wall behind the stage; it ranges from pieces from the 1990s to the present day. Despite my fervent wish to believe that things have gotten better for women, it appears that in some way or another, it really has not.
So, Words Without Consent makes the point that sexism and misogyny run rampant in today’s society, egged on by political rhetoric, and that all women are affected by it. My issue, therefore, becomes – where is the intersectionality? The play focuses on gender without nuance, and it carves out no space for conversation, for example, about how women of colour struggle from the dual effects of both racism and sexism, two things which cannot be separated. When Patterson and Rice talk about sexism in the workplace, and how women have to look ‘acceptable’ at all times, there is no discussion about how women of colour, and black women in particular, find it even harder to look ‘acceptable’ because of natural attributes such as hair type. At one point, the women discuss the term feminism, and go on to discuss militant feminism – and yet, there is no discussion of white feminism and how white women can be part of the problem.
Words Without Consent provides us with an unflinching look at contemporary politics and feminism, but it leaves me craving intersectionality. I enjoy Patterson and Rice’s acting, and I think that the play makes vital points surrounding the reality of women’s lived experiences, but it just doesn’t go far enough for me. If it wants to comment on the current political landscape, then it also needs to comment on the current state of gender, one which is inherently intersectional in a multitude of ways.
Words Without Consent played the Southwark Playhouse on 13 July 2021. For more information, see Southwark Playhouse online.