Beyonce’s ‘Who run the world- girls’ is at the forefront of Bristol Old Vic Young Companies latest show Make More Noise, that places 21stcentury feminism and its explorations at the epicentre. Marking 100 years since women were first granted the vote, it’s a celebration of the women who dared to be different, and a call to arms to finally eradicate gender inequality for good. It is a smart, bracing, angry, funny and startling work that confirms the community projects at this theatre, can produce pieces as impressive as anything seen in the main season.
Expectations are subverted right from the beginning in Lisa Gregan’s always impressive production. The stage is dressed in pastoral green with flowers bursting from the stage in Anna Orton’s design (one of four shows I have seen designed by her in a matter of weeks- what is she on and can I have some?!) and we see groups of women in swim suits coquettishly taking bites out of blood red apples. Milton’s fall of man and the nymph under the male gaze which this image alludes too, are suddenly flipped as these women burst forward and explain how terrifying it was to agree to start the play in swimsuits, how the feeling of being judged is intense, but how they wanted to do it. For themselves.
It’s a work bursting with ideas, mostly from a younger generation whose idealism hasn’t been chipped away at. There is nothing here that will surprise, its arguments already being articulated left, right and centre in columns and political soap boxes, but it is heartening to see young people be so political and have strong opinions from the gender pay disparity to the rights of trans women. Sure there is a feeling that they are preaching to the choir in an audience that I would tip at 95% left leaning liberals and probably similar numbers on the stage. They address this elephant in the room by admitting that the company on stage is mostly white, cis females and so some stories can’t be told but it does highlight one of the continuing issues theatres have in attracting audiences and participants from different social, racial and economic classes.
But what has been really exciting over the past couple of years is seeing the company putting on devised work that has put the young people’s ideas at the forefront and convinced those of us who are watching that this generation can only lead to the world being a better place. WhatTh**nk You and now this have in common is that they really listen to what young people are grappling with and then create theatre that articulates it perfectly.
There are two segments where the work truly buzzes. The first is where the women come to the forefront of the stage and describe a woman who has inspired them in some way; icons, family and then friends. From Frida Kahlo to the friend who makes the world seem a better place, each individual is given a moment in the spotlight and a hymn to them is given. The second interrogates the #MeToo argument in more detail, as one of the girls explains her love for Quentin Tarrantino movies and her idolisation of Mia, Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction. As she recounts in detail the dance scene in Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant as Thurman jives alongside Travolta, she also explains that during the course of the shoot, Thurman was subjected to a sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein and threatened that if she spoke her career would be over. Now watching this, she explains, she looks at Thurman’s face and wonders if it’s still ok to love this iconic moment. There are no easy answers. Art and morals have never gone hand in hand.
Occasionally voices are lost in an unbalanced sound score and in a show that generally plays complex its physical incarnation of the patriarchy is a bit of a blunt instrument but these are minor quibbles in a short, sharp blast of a 65-minute work that gives theatrical articulation to a celebration of all those who classify themselves as female.
Make More Noise plays until the 4 August at Bristol Old Vic