Content warning: Contains dialogue on abusive relationships, assault and abortion
So: a foetus, a cougar, a camera girl, a drag queen and a victim walk into a bar… this is the line used to describe She Can’t Half Talk, a series of all-femme monologues by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, and it perfectly encapsulates the irreverent humour and bizarre nature of the production.
This diverse range of female centred characters is crafted to deliver the message of equal power and to reclaim the female narrative. It explores how women consistently focus on how they are seen by others, rather than their own feelings. The audience perceives this from the moment the lights go up on stage, as each character makes statements which capture the image-directed nature of society today.
The beginning performance may throw the traditional theatre viewer but was delivered so expertly that the existence of a walking, talking foetus seems to make perfect sense by the end. She reflects the innocent state of children before they are altered by external perspectives whilst showing her wide-eyed lack of understanding of her mother’s fear of men. All this eloquent expression is only facilitated by information that she hears when her mother’s legs are relaxed and open, or that she cannot comprehend when they are tightly closed. As such, you see the interesting interchange of hilarity and powerful truth.
The following monologues take the audience through varying experiences of self-discovery and realisation. The camera girl portrays the conflict of desire for personal connection with the fear of intimacy which is holding her back. She hides behind her computer, giving the satisfaction of her body to paying men whilst struggling to find any pleasure in it. This conflict is drawn out and it’s not until the moment her eyes are opened that the audience becomes aware she’s gay. Its a moment of pure joy for both as something clicks into place and we realise quite why she likes sex with a man as a similar experience to sipping herbal tea; fine but not sensational.
The ‘unsavoury’ nature of the taboo is another aspect that this production is keen to pull apart. The victim appears standoffish and aggressive; she has constructed a front for the police and public to protect herself from the judgment and pity that she expects. The silence of the audience at this point speaks to how invested we become as she shrinks in on herself when remembering the abuse she suffered. It is distressing to witness her anguish and disbelief that the laws of protection did not apply to her. By exposing this, the production highlights women’s distrust of the system and how isolated they can become.
The drag queen continues this and demonstrates how quickly people turn on something they do not completely understand. She is pained by how she is forgotten and excluded from women’s trust by dint of being slightly different. The vulnerability is clear as she stands on stage in full dress and makeup with her wig removed; by straddling two sectors, she does not belong to any according to society.
It ends with a comment on how women are terrified of the aging process. You bear witness to the cougar’s turmoil at becoming an old mother which eliminates any sexuality or agency in life. Whilst men go through this time relatively untouched, it falls to women to become the quiet backdrop to their activity, silent and forgotten.
These monologues draw the audience in, encouraging thought and reflection as they follow the fluctuations of emotion along with the characters. It is a powerful piece mainly due to the skilled delivery of the actors, whose ability to intermingle comic moments with their problems results in a critique of society today.
She Can’t Half Talk
Image: Kelechi Anna Hafstad