Attending an event called Audacious Women Live!, we’d all expect to leave a little bit empowered, a little bit inspired, and a little bit offended at the sheer audacity of it all. And while the women who stand before the audience aren’t quite the Caitlin Moran-esque, cheeky, middle-aged feminists the title invokes (at least to me!), they actually represent so much more. They represent real women, real transgressions, and real audacity.
First to take the stage is Lily Asch. Her flowing dress gives her the appearance of gliding across the stage as she recounts for us the story of Medusa and her entanglements with the Greek gods. Her manner is calm, her performance beautifully rehearsed and immaculate. It lacks edge, but rather embodies a simplicity and quietude that speaks to women everywhere – the message that having your voice heard is not about who can shout the loudest.
Imogen Stirling, up next, is a complete change of pace – and volume. She shouts, and she stumbles over her words; her spoken word performance is much more raw and real. With her mounds of bright pink hair and arms waving, her performance is an absolute feast for the senses, and she fills the room in a way that Asch does not. Her poem ‘Me She’ is haunting, and leaves the audience with a lump of terror in their chests: not only does Stirling’s poem tackle the difficult taboos of rape and woman-directed violence, but she shouts it for the world to hear, in an act of absolute defiance.
Her style is rather unique in the world of spoken word, with an obvious background in music shining through. More like rap than poetry, more like lyrics than words: the choice of vocabulary based on phonetics rather than meaning at times. Although Stirling occasionally gets carried away in her tongue-twisters, occasionally tripping over herself in her rush to get through the poem, her performance is still mesmerising.
The two pre-interval performances are wildly contrastive in their delivery, but both excellent in their respective extremes. After the interval, Jan Bee Brown and Maria MacDonell step up, with MacDonell’s daughter accompanying their storytelling both on violin and an instrument made from a huge pumpkin. A collection of stories of audacious women from the stage, their performance is very spritely if a little over-the-top – ending with stripping down to swimming costumes in solidarity with Annette Kellerman, inventor of the modern one-piece women’s swimsuit.
The two final stories, one about Kellerman and one about Fanny Kemble, are absolutely stand-out. The rest of the performance falls flat in a rambling and somewhat forgettable mess. However, the under-rehearsed ethos can be forgiven, given that they were taking the place of poet Erin May Kelly, who was unable to perform due to illness.
Audacious Women Live shows us how femininity can arise and be expressed in a multitude of ways. While some of us can remain calm in the face of injustice, others would rather scream and shout until our voices are heard. Others take solace in the knowledge that women have transgressed all throughout history (herstory!) and that now is no time to quit.
Audacious Women Live!
Netherbow Theatre, Scottish Storytelling Centre
21st February 2019
Image: Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland.