Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pussyfooting (Paradise in the Vault, Edinburgh Fringe)

Built from interviews and workshops with women and transgender people across the UK, Pussyfooting is a "collaged exploration" of how it is to live in a gendered body. And what fantastic fun it is too!

Pussyfooting is a feast of comedy sketches, light-hearted sit-down discussions and heartfelt truth-telling, and it is ridiculously empowering for both men and women. At its core, it asks what it means to be a woman. Does it mean long, flowing hair? Being there when a loved one is crying, and staying until their upset is sated? Is being a woman defined by simply having a vagina, or periods, or breasts?

To be a woman, you don't need any of these things. Gender fluidity means a person needn't have the traditional physical attributes of the female to be a woman. She doesn't have to care so much about other people, and she certainly doesn't have to fall in love with a man and have children in order to feel justifiably womanly. What it essentially comes down to is that we are all women. We are all men. We are what we want to be, what we choose to be, or at least we could if society let us.

The humour in Pussyfooting is deliciously silly. It begins with a chorus of Kate Bush's magnificent This Woman's Work, but the power of the words is undercut by the five performers picking their noses and scratching their bums, and it soon becomes apparent that they are schoolchildren, merely bored with their enforced rendition. This then slips into a wonderful sketch told by teachers at a girls' school where an unreasonable outbreak of lesbianism is being tackled. The teachers advise pupils not to wear too short skirts, not to place their faces in close proximity with one another, to use a special comb in their hair (like for nits!), and all school library books written by women, or which have female characters, are to be banned, in order to remove temptation. It's very silly, Python-esque stuff! There are goldfish impressions too (Ell Potter's goldfish is hilarious!).

There are also more serious moments where the performers sit cross-legged on the floor and quiz each other with unrehearsed questions. When did you last feel powerful? When did you last feel embarrassed? When did you last cry in public? Ordinarily the audience might not give two hoots when these people last felt powerful, but they have such loveable charisma that you're invested in them from the very start. They're like Smack the Pony in rainbow dungarees.

There's audience participation too, as various people are handed envelopes to open and then read out the statements within. When did you last feel powerful (that theme again)? It transpires that these pieces of paper were written by audience members from the previous night's show, and by the end of the performance you too will be asked to write your own statement, for possible use the next day. It's a beautiful way to keep the show fresh day to day; it can never be the same twice.

At the end of the show, Kate Bush's Hounds of Love ("It's in the trees! It's coming!") blasts out of the speakers and the performers get everyone up dancing to the music with them. Some get up straight away, other try to shrink into the shadows, but there's no escape. What it's trying to do is create a moment, a unique happening between everybody in that room at that time, which cannot be reproduced. Everybody will feel either empowered or embarrassed by it.

Pussyfooting is a patchwork of ideas. They may not flow from one to the next very easily, but the show as a whole is an exhilarating, empowering, joyful experience, and it is to be hoped Oxford University Drama Society's Knotworks can expand upon it, and create more work of this nature, in the future. A definite Fringe highlight if you're looking for spontaneity, fun and the hounds of love...

The stats
Devised and performed by: Maddy Herbert, Jessy Parker Humphreys, Rivka Micklethwaite, Ell Potter, Elaine Robertson
Director: Livi Dunlop
Performed at Paradise in the Vault, Edinburgh, August 5th to 28th, 2016 (not 14th, 21st or 29th). Performance reviewed: August 15th, 2016

Knotworks tumblr (retrieved Aug 18 2016)
Pussyfooting power tumblr (retrieved Aug 18 2016)

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Did you see the show too? I'd love to hear your feedback!