"I'm in a cop car
I got here by accident
Produced by Mama Quilla and Theatre503, Acts of Defiance is a multidisciplinary festival which is "an explosive examination of female dissidence and a shameless celebration of global female defiance". Film, spoken word, community-based work sit alongside a programme of six short plays, curated by Kay Adshead, which fold in a world of influences - feminism, diversity, sexuality, race, motherhood - to their tales of defiance, all accompanied to brilliant effect by Rosie Bergonzi's percussion, evoking both the freeing beauty of dancing in a gay club to the fear of being caught in urban nightmare with the beat of her drum.
Once the cast found their feet, opening playlet The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordham proved to be one of the most quietly affecting. Directed with graceful economy by Rachel Valentine Smith, the tales of three disparate American women - an 85 year old recent widow, a middle-aged mother estranged from her daughter, a young Muslim (Marlene Sidaway, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Karlina Grace-Paseda respectively) - all searching for something different yet fatefully entwined together.
Similarly, Paula B Stanic's Disconnect wound together the strands of three more women, again superbly performed by an achingly good Jody Jameson, a forthright Antonia Kemo Coker and a wonderfully free-spirited Lauren Cato, all caught up in the fear and uncertainty of a crowded situation spinning out of control. Tanika Gupta's Dishonour and Nicola Werenowska's Tattooed Under The Skin added their own spins into different aspects of the subject.
But it's Adshead's Entering Incomplete Map Data Area, stunningly performed by Virginia Ness, and Rose Lewenstein's Fucking Feminists that linger strongest in my mind. Adshead's monologue is a ferocious piece of storytelling, a Good Samaritan tale spiralling into something close to a horror story and recounted expertly by Ness, thoroughly inhabiting its haunting emotions. And then Lewenstein gives us plenty of food for thought in the ensemble piece Fucking Feminists, which manages that wonderful feat of being both entertaining and educative.
Beginning with playful statements like 'can a chair be objectified?' and 'can a chair be a feminist?', Lisa Cagnacci's astute direction ensures that playfulness doesn't substitute for purpose as every line of Lewenstein's almost lecture-like piece is loaded with thought-provoking meaning in challenging all our assumptions about what a feminist could or should be. Jameson impressed again here, as did Ania Sowinski, providing an energetic ending to a marvellously uninhibited evening of provocative theatre.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 10th September