A Pox on the Patriarchy
- Caroline Criado-Perez
I’m scared for Rose; I’m gripped by her fear. I feel shivers on my body and my jaw clenching up. I watch her wait for her abuser’s return and I feel horrified, terrified, powerless. The tension evoked is reflected all over my body – and this is only the trailer.
What am I talking about and where are all the jokes?
Well the answer to the first part of that question is that I’m talking about Lady in Red, Certain Curtain Theatre Company’s award-winning production about Domestic Violence. The answer to the second question? Well, contrary to popular belief, domestic violence isn’t funny. It’s the stuff of nightmares. And if this trailer is anything to go by, Certain Curtain Theatre Company are well on their way to setting society straight on that. In fact, in the words of this week’s Chick Doing Shit, Claire Moore, the Certain Curtain Theatre Company aims at no less than ‘world domination’ when it comes to the re-education of society.
Regular readers will know that Claire had me at ‘world domination’: this is the kind of trash talk that we CDS-in-training types like to hear.
But to get back to Claire and away from my tendency towards embarrassing crushes, let’s talk a bit about how all this talk of domination came to be a realisable dream.
Back in 1989, when I was in smock-frocks (in reality I was in truly awful matching leggings and t-shirts, but let’s pretend I was born to vintage), Claire was touring round hospitals and residential homes with Verbatim Reminiscence Theatre. The idea was to make theatre pieces out of the voices of real people. A nice idea – but as Claire says, while ‘people – whatever age – have great stories to tell…they can’t always express the beauty of their experience.’ And, again to quote Claire (hard to get a word in; I am trying, I assure you), ‘why should they? That’s a writer’s job’.
Can I take this opportunity to point out I’m a writer for hire? [Stop that – Ed.]
Right. Anyway, so Claire toured with this company, but felt increasingly uncomfortable about the somewhat amateur nature of the piece she was performing; she was concerned that it gave off the impression that not everyone deserved professional theatre. And this is something Claire feels passionately about: theatre should not be elitist. It should be about telling ‘ordinary people’s experiences in an extra-ordinary way’ and giving everyone access to professional theatre.
So when the tour was over, rather than sitting on her bottom and dousing herself in tea and biscuits like any normal person would do, this eminent Chick went and Did some Shit; that is to say, using her £40 a week from the Enterprise Allowance Scheme she set up her own theatre company. And not just any theatre company: a theatre company that would perform the type of theatre she felt that everyone deserved to see.
Since then, and without any funding, Claire’s not-for-profit company has taken high-impact theatre to the people, performing in pretty much any space imaginable – including on one occasion, in a corridor. It doesn’t get much more open-access to that – or maybe closed-access since it’s a confined space. Who knows? It’s unusual anyway.
In the plays she has produced over the last twenty years Claire has also unequivocally countered those who curl their lip at ‘issues-based theatre’. At the centre of all her company’s plays is a firm belief in the power of a good story – and of the importance of combining linguistic vigour with physical force to convey that story. After all, as Claire herself says, this really is nothing new: what play doesn’t have an ‘issue’ at its heart – Taming of the Shrew, I’m looking at you.
And on the subject of abusive relationships, this is something that Claire’s company has focused on for a number of years now. It started when Claire and her partner-in-theatre John Woudberg were asked to write a play for a domestic violence helpline launch. Claire recalls the long silence when the originally one-off performance ended; her fear that the audience had hated it was disabused by the standing ovation the play received a minute later. Indeed, so little did the audience hate it, that two women from that audience spent two years fundraising, to enable the company to go on tour. And so they did, touring The Knot on and off for twelve years.
This level of audience involvement is a potent indicator of the power of The Certain Curtain Theatre Company’s performances. But, while perhaps unusually active, these two women are by no means unusual in being inspired by them: one of the most poignant audience reactions comes from a woman who said, “I am a survivor and your play was really hard for me, it was exactly what I was thinking at the time”. Another comment demonstrated the importance of education: “Real eye-opener – have a friend who suffers and I had lost patience – I will go home tonight and give her a hug “.
Small wonder that Claire is inspired in her turn: she speaks of the thousands of women who have come to talk to her after performances as ‘a humbling experience’ in which she is enabled to ‘appreciate the lack of understanding that gets in the way of us seeking help’.
This lack of understanding, particularly over the issue of emotional abuse, is one that Claire & Co challenge. Claire speaks of the power of words: they ‘are as harmful as “sticks and stones” – words are what bind us, define us’. She speaks of her desire to make people understand the nature of that power we wield when we speak, as an answer to the tired old question, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’. Claire reveals that the simple riposte of ‘Why doesn’t he just stop?’ doesn’t seem to have occurred to most people, so entrenched is our society’s victim-blaming mentality. But beyond this riposte, Claire’s company seeks, through their mirroring the co-implication of physical and emotional abuse with their co-implication of physical and verbal theatre, to undermine the ‘words can never harm me’ stance. This stance is itself harmful, since it not only undermines victims’ experiences, but also prevents many from seeking help, since they do not realise what is happening to them, and that it has a name.
And to return to the name with which I started this piece, you may be wondering what happened to Rose. So am I; I will be finding out in a few weeks – and I am looking forward to what I know will be a powerful and emotional performance with a mixture of excitement and dread.
* * * * * *