By Nayomi Karthigesu
Without a word of warning, the piece by Fizz Margereson jumps straight into a performance about sexual harassment. A fluid fusion of dance, drama and direct activism it recounts “one character’s” tale of sexual harassment through day and night. It is poignant, it is emphatic, and most importantly it is relatable. The piece can be split into four distinct parts, the structure of which resembles the formatting of a pop song – perhaps to mimic the commonality of sexual harassment. Verse 1 sees Girl, played adroitly by Scarlet Simmons, standing in the middle of a chalk-covered floor (the designs being erratic and nonsensical – “To show how strange sexual assault is, the weird way we tolerate it,” the director tells me after the show). Sounds mimic the noises of a busy street as the Girl is repeatedly whistled at. During this time she is joined by two others, Ella Rainbird-Earley and Immy Wood who represent the conflicting inner turmoil every sufferer faces. One wants to fight back, to ensure this does not happen to others, to stand up for herself, whilst the other yearns to retreat into safety to fight another day. They comment jokingly on the whistler, imagining him to be a hot guy, a builder, a family man. All remarks, however, veil a hint of fear and disgust.
Verse two delves into a nightclub scene where the Girl encounters a man trying to “help” her find her lost friends. The situation escalates and then a dance breaks out – the bridge. The dance cleverly captures the inner turmoil of Girl any victim of sexual harassment – Was she too provocative? Maybe she asked for it? During this time a soundtrack of people recounting their feelings during harassment is played whilst the actors hand out slips of paper with similar statements.
Verse 3 – the finale. Girl is trying to walk home but someone is following her. Her panic is escalated by the two others, who fuel her and the audience’s fear. This escalates too, with the footsteps coming faster and faster until all action stops and Girl looks up. “Why aren’t you helping me?” The piece ends.
We applaud, hesitantly at first – you never know with these performances if they’re ever really done – but the lights go up and we applaud more loudly. It is good theatre – not there to make you comfortable but important in its cause and necessary in this day and age. The actors were faultless and no movement or line was out of place or unnecessary – a technically perfect production. However, Fizz mentions at the end of the performance that this was not merely an artistic production but activism.
What is memorable is its terrifying relatability, the suddenness with which I can remember the exact same words coming out of my own mouth, the same level of jittery uncomfortableness sexual harassment sends you into conveyed in the hitches in the voices of the actors or their fast erratic movement around the small space, and amplified by the floor design. In this respect, perhaps it is good activism? Remembering past trauma, although it was the stimulant behind “Flattered,” did not have the same affect on me – clearly Fizz is a fighter whilst I prefer to forget.
My friend told me afterwards that she wanted to leave – but that would be more uncomfortable than remaining. It then dawns on me that the piece needs a trigger warning. Yes, perhaps we should have been prepared if we were going to see a piece about sexual harassment, but the depiction of possible assault and the recreation of those events on stage was not forewarned about.
My greatest issue was the lack of diversity, however. Cis-gendered white women are not the only ones who get harassed. None of the actors were or depicted anyone other than cis-gendered white women, and of the voices recounting their own experiences, none were any less than refined and cultured – no hint of an accent anywhere. Neither were there any mentions of race or LGBTQ specific experiences – in these spaces, insults often include the words “exotic” and gay slurs on top of the insults related in the performance. The addition of one experience outside the narrowed frame of cis-gendered white women, or the inclusion of an actor outside this description (either of colour or gender) would, in my opinion, served to enhance the experience.
“It’s for men,” my friend says, as we head to the chicken shop for some late night dinner, “Us women, we know that. We’ve lived through it. Why should I have to watch the repeated injustice of being a woman when I have experienced it?” Perhaps we are not “just standing there” as the final line of the performance stipulates – perhaps we are suffering too. “Flattered made you feel uncomfortable, and the fact that it’s got us talking about sexual harassment, which both of us only now know each other has experienced, wasn’t that what it was all about?” I retaliate just before I put in my order of chicken and chips. It is undeniably good theatre, but is it good activism? That is something to be judged for yourself.