You may be stronger than me, but I have a weapon. I can SCREAM. And so she does, and so they all do, these women before us, they scream. Very loudly. This is an immediate, clear, unequivocal feminist statement. We are women, we have voices, and we will not be silenced.
Sirens is a show made by women, about women. The cast of six women actors are credited as the writers of the piece (with direction, as always with Ontroerend Goed’s shows, by Alexander Devriendt). These women – many of who have performed in other shows by the company – represent a wide variety of ages and experiences, and here present a wide variety of women’s voices. Women talking about feminism. Women talking about body image. Women talking about sexual violence. Women talking about everyday sexism. Women talking about ironic sexism. Women pleading guilty to stereotypical behaviour, and women berating men for their stereotypical behaviour. Women reflecting on the place of women in the world, and of the work that still needs doing. Part of me feels tired of the same old talk, the things that still need to be said – I’ve been an unreconstructed feminist for 45 years, and there is nothing here I haven’t heard before. But it’s not the fault of the show that this all still needs saying – it’s the fault of the world. Carry on…
I love the chosen form: a concert delivered by six vocalists, each in evening dress and heels, each standing behind a mic. The shouts and squeals and screams of the opening section of the work are at times like a serious experimental music piece (echoes of Cathy Berberian’s work with Ligeti) and at times clownish and silly. Both – and everything in between – works beautifully.
Musicality – specifically, the musical play with words and with vocal sounds – stays a constant throughout the piece. Lists are often used. A list of skin creams, what they claim to do, and their price (Estee Lauder, £55 for 50ml down to Aldi’s £1.79 offering). A list of female celebrities hated (‘I hate Cameron Diaz.’ ‘Sarah Jessica Parker is a skank.’). A list of casual sexual assault on young women (‘I was 16’ ‘I was 12’ ‘I was 19’).
Everything is beautifully constructed, well paced, nicely delivered. It is polemic, but it needs to be. There are moments of irony, visual counterbalances to the feminist tracts – for example, dimly-lit porn projections, onto the (black) curtains at the back of the stage; a mock (male) wanking scene. I’m not sure I’d have bothered with either; the former seems a pointless addition of men’s gaze on women, not really the subject of the piece; the latter is funny but doesn’t add anything much, seeming to be just an opportunity to do a bit of retaliatory man-mocking.
These are minor criticisms. It’s a strong piece of work, and a great showcasing of women’s voices – in many senses of that word.
Sirens is shortlisted for a Total Theatre Award 2014 in Innovation & Experimentation.