BLURRED LINES NT SHED SE1

FEMINISM?  NOW THIS IS MORE LIKE IT!

Eight women,  on a great flight of pale stairs which light and flash, introduce themselves politely.  “Single Mum, White”  “Brittle First Wife”  “Broken Down Alcoholic”   “Prostitute, black” “Northern blonde, bubbly” “Middle Class Mum, forty but fuckable”  “Admiral’s wife, jolly”.  “Older Mum, character face”…

The house is  joyful, as if suddenly released from the airless stuffiness of a hundred TV casting clichés.   There are few better sounds in a theatre than gurgles of delighted recognition,  and anyone with an understandable fear of any show promising “a blistering journey through contemporary gender politics”  should be assured that in this  impressionistic 70-minute piece there are many moments of pure glee.  Not least when one of the cast opportunistically leaps down to the front and says that if there’s anyone important in, she looking for work: an MTV girl maybe,  or “the black best friend who gets murdered in the opening moments of all American thrillers” . She offers to produce at will a General African Accent, put on weight or relax her hair.  Whatever!

There are also several deeply touching passages:  distilled tiny playlets whcih feel real despite the neon stairs, with laments and narratives woven by Nick Payne into something close to antiphonal poetry.   He (the only man involved)  co-created it with director Carrie Cracknell and improvisations with the players: eight brave, clever, funny women bringing their own indignations  and hilarities to the process.

It was inspired by Kat Banyard’s book The Equality Illusion with its damning statistics on employment, domestic violence and the unstoppable online tide of pornographic objectification of the female body.  The title refers to the strutting popinjay Robin Thicke and his loathsome video where naked women –  in tiny flesh-coloured thongs so their genitalia look like Barbie dolls’ – twine around him (and a dog and a bike) as he barks  “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two”.   The cast were refused permission to sing it,  but do sing fragments of the Crystals‘ “He hit me but it felt like a kiss” and Tammy Wynette’s preposterous “Don‘ liberate me, jus‘ love me”.  High culture gets a swipe too, as a fragile blonde starts sobbingly to sing the Willow Song from Othello.    The playlets use the cast’s diverse ages and appearance – some dropping into male roles – to express attitudes to relationships, prostitution, and work.  Wrenhing is a teenager date-raped after sessions with a boyfriend grew increasingly into “something that he did rather than something they did together”.  And there’s a  darkly funny workplace interview with Bryony Hannah as a female boss patronizing Claire Skinner as a new mother.

In  a surprise coda the show seems finished and three become interviewer, male director and star of a play doing a “Platform”.   A spread-thighed,  artily tousled “Martin” preens and interrupts while his tiny blonde star burbles nervously of the “trust” and “safety” she felt doing a violent bedroom scene in lingerie and bare bum.  A staged question from the floor is met with such accurate patronage that some yelped with glee.  Another little jewel in the fine red Shed.

Box office  020 7452 3000      to 22 feb

Rating:  four   4 Meece Rating

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