Using music and movement RashDash have updated the story of Cinderella story to create a clever critique of the way the media portrays gender and class. The company twists the tale of the enslaved princess whose happily-ever-after comes in the form of a prince into one where the happy ending consists of winning first place in a reality competition, and probably a deodorant sponsorship; it also turns the maligned sisters into the protagonists.
Emerald and Pearl, the siblings of the title, begin their story in a burnt out car, vying for the affection of their overworked mother, Ruby. And then Ruby meets Clint. And soon they’ve moved in. And before they know it, they’re horse riding with Arabella, their new Barbie-doll of a step-sister. Emerald and Pearl don’t like horse riding. Or ballet. And this is part of their ‘ugliness’, their inability to be proper girls. While Arabella has the kind of hair that just cries to be stroked, Emerald and Pearl don’t own a brush. The expectations placed on them, within the traditional and contemporary fairytale narrative, are very visible in the all-female world of the play, particularly due to the casting. The boys who make up the backing band also take on the roles of Arabella and Ruby, the more successfully feminine of the women, mocking and playing with these stereotypes rather than reinforcing them.
Today we construct modern fairy tales about those who overcome hardship and adversity through unquenchable ambition, by extension shaming all of those who couldn’t quite break free of their backgrounds. You see it all the time in the way the media portrays those who claim benefits (witness the frothing response to Channel 4’s show Benefits Street). RashDash offer a fresh take on this idea of aspiration and ambition by foregrounding two girls who have none of it; the sisters just want to spend time together and have no issues with their surroundings, no desire to escape them.
Whilst doing and saying all this the production manages to be huge fun: the band are great, the sisters are funny. Sometimes the piece is surprisingly moving, as in the sequence in which Emerald experiments with laughter and a loop pedal. But sometimes, when the piece makes more of an attempt to be serious, it becomes indulgent. Several of the movement sequences become repetitive, and this repetition does little for the piece emotionally. Yet the chemistry of RashDash’s Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen as the sisters, particularly when they’re together behind a microphone, largely makes up for this.
The piece might not be the sharpest or strongest in terms of its analysis of the way the media handles gender and class, but its energy and anger and bravado is such that its audience can’t help but feel invigorated.
RashDash’s Abbi Greenland on The Ugly Sisters and women in the media.