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  • Charlotte McEvoy

FemFest 2016 Review

‘Tell me, what does the F-word mean to you?’ was the question of the night at Minotaur Theatre Company’s FemFest 2016, held at the lovely Norwich Puppet Theatre and hosted by the wonderful and hilarious Alice Haskell. The evening consisted of a range of fabulous feminist fun- music, dance, poetry, rapping, reading, a preview of the company’s Edinburgh play ‘Steam’ and a performance of the brilliant ‘The Hours Before Epsom’.

The first half of the evening really explored what feminism meant to us as individuals, with comedic and serious, but overall empowering videos giving different points of view and definitions. What I really enjoyed about the evening as a whole was that it wasn't preachy; it didn't shove a particular definition down our throats but allowed us as individuals to come up with our own definitions of what feminism meant to us, whether we were male or female. Everyone left the evening with their own ideas and interpretations, but the feeling of unity and empowerment was universal.

Alice Haskell, Host for the evening.

The choices of music and poetry were absolutely wonderful, as again they gave an insight into what feminism and equality meant for each performer. The incredible musical talents of Adrian Moore, Coralie Bastiaens and Nell Barlow were extremely well received and the sheer range of musical topics again gave insight into what was important and the areas that inequality and oppression reach into.

Nell was one of multiple singers to sing about Feminism during the evening.

Furthermore, the poetry, reading and rapping covered a whole range of topics, genres and styles, but were all admirably unflinching. Every performer had an air of refusing to apologise or be polite about subjects that are normally so taboo. The entire evening really was a celebration of all the things that society has taught us, especially women, to be quiet and courteous about because they happen to find them uncomfortable. All the speakers - Aimée De-Ritis, Anna Hodgson, Rocio Rodriquez-Inniss, Ella Green, Anissa Praquin and Phoebe Wood did absolutely stunning jobs whether their words were original or from the likes of Duffy and Kaur, celebrating what is oppressed or overlooked, or drawing attention to the darkness and pain inequality brings.

Phoebe Wood read some original poetry.

Following the readings was a short but captivating preview of ‘Steam’ by Dom Luck, directed by himself and Ruth Phillips, performed by Rosa Caines, Jim Murrell, Eleni Savva, Bobbi Sleafer-Nunes, Nell Barlow and Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson. This preview was so engrossing as the choreography was so tight and the music so intense. The actors were so focused and aware of each other, creating an unsettling and threatening atmosphere that promises a brilliant, harrowing and gritty full performance at the Fringe later this summer.

Preview of this year's Edinburgh show, 'Steam'

After the interval, the second half featured Lewis Wilding’s ‘The Hours Before Epsom’ directed by himself and Tara Burgess, starring Sarah Fitzpatrick, Anna Buttery, Francesca Thesen, Louis Raghunathan, Luke Browne and Ben Purkiss. The play re-imagined the events leading up to suffragette Emily Wilding-Davison’s still-debated suicide at the Epsom Derby in 1913, after throwing herself in front of the King’s horse.

I think I speak on behalf of the majority of the audience when I say this play was fantastic. It managed to be hilarious, touching, heart-breaking, clever and serious all at the same time, with incredibly witty writing and brilliant direction, and wonderfully grounded and captivating performances from the cast.

Feminism is such a difficult and taboo subject because there are so many misconceptions and definitions and what this play did brilliantly was, again, not force one definition at us - everything was open to interpretation allowing the audience to take what they needed from it; in the same way the three women took what they needed from their encounters. The idea of time travel could have been cheesy but because the play itself knew and embraced that, it allowed it to be accepted which meant the more important topics could be discussed whist ignoring the technicalities. The exploration of how far feminism had come over varying time periods was extremely interesting, and juxtaposing the three on-stage simultaneously lent itself to some brilliant laughs- the ‘luxury item’ gag being a firm audience favourite - and also some purely heart-breaking moments.

Sarah plays the role of Emily Davison in 'The Hours Before Epsom'

Today’s society has definitely come a long way since 1913, but what the play did well was highlight the fact that ‘a long way’ still isn't enough, and that inequality is still very much an ongoing issue. Furthermore, I really liked the idea of choice within the play, as the audience were still left wondering what choice Emily had made at the conclusion of the play. This all relates back to interpretations, and choosing what feminism means to you, and the play did not attempt to make Emily’s choice for her by rewriting history and giving it a definite ending, which I also felt was very respectful. ‘The Hours Before Epsom’ was very aware of the historical complications and debate over Emily’s death, and did not try to firmly conclude it. Instead, it presented several very clear and logical points of view and left the doors open, not just for Emily but for the audience, allowing us to explore and ponder these views, questioning the past, present and future and developing our own views on feminism and all the issues and problems that arise with it.

'What does the F-Word mean to you?'

The decision to move the feminist slot from just female actors to all genders is also an indication of the development of feminism, its misconceptions and its range of meanings. Feminism is essentially about equality of the genders, it is not a competition to see who is the most oppressed, it is not a ploy by women to overpower men, it is not a dirty word. It is a right, a necessity and overall it is logical. If you believe in gender equality then that makes you a feminist, and that is something to be celebrated. We as a society need to stop seeing the word ‘feminist’ as something dangerous, or something to be scared and ashamed of. We need to embrace it, and only then can we start making a difference and changing things until feminism is no longer necessary, because it has become normal.

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