Calm Down Dear is the Camden People’s Theatre’s annual feminist theatre festival, now in its fourth year. The poster illustration of an apple’s cross section provides some yonic imagery, a reference to Eve and a sense of playfulness via the tagline promising to “destroy the patriarchy in three weeks flat – or your money back*” followed by the footnote, “*just kidding”. Having acknowledged that this this festival won’t fix the problem of global sexism by its close, each piece can focus on the more attainable goals of opening conversations, challenging spectator viewpoints, and hopefully sending their audience back into the world a little bit more aware than before.
Blush was presented as part of a double bill with The Absolute Truth About Absolutely Everything, and comes to London following a highly successful Edinburgh run. It appears to have lost none of its appeal in transition, bringing several audience members to their feet at the end. It’s an ambitious piece about revenge porn, Twitter misogyny, porn addiction, and the spread of images without consent. In short, it’s a show that questions what sexuality and gender means in a world where internet usage is widespread. The narratives of five individuals (three female, two male) are performed by Charlotte Josephine and Daniel Foxsmith, who include a handful of powerful dance and movement sequences.
The play opens with a surprisingly poetic description of a woman’s desire to gouge the eyes out of the 30,000 who watched the leaked sex tape of her sister. There is an electrifying element to the carefully sculpted language which remains throughout, right up until the subtle and heart-wrenching closing lines. Josephine, also the writer of Blush, has a talent for creating a compelling selection of different voices, which communicate themselves well to the audience.
James Turner’s design is simple, but evocative. The placing of a large, red circle on the floor is not only a basic representation of a blush, but also carries connotations of the violence implicit in the sexual acts discussed. In the first speech, we are told about the desire to squish eyeballs under bare feet, and we notice that Holly Rose Henshaw’s costumes do not include shoes. The exposed skin forces the actors into increased physical contact with the big blush on the floor. A little detail, but one that makes the show somehow more charged, the action more visceral. The lighting, too, communicates much. As one character describes taking naked shot after naked shot of herself, bulbs flash brightly, dazzling the audience’s eyes and drawing us into the world of the addictive, self-affirming photo shoot.
Alongside the rage and horror, there is a lot of humour in Blush (the representation of Facebook likes and comments earns a lot of laughs, as does a piece on insincere sexting), leading to a balanced and very watchable show. It also shows how easily one can become entangled in this messy world – even if you wouldn’t organise a date off Twitter, it’s easy to imagine how just one Tweet could throw someone into a world of misogynistic abuse.
Blush has the potential to open up many discussions with a digital generation. It also demonstrates the power of issues-based theatre when done well, and has encouraged me to see more shows at Calm Down Dear. The patriarchy will not be smashed in 21 days but, if this piece is anything to go by, it might well be chipped away at.
Calm Down Dear is on until 9th October 2016. Click here for more details.