Left – Shamita Siva, Jane Cameron, Caroline Dunphy, Alexandra Hines (Danny Carroll in background). Photo – Morgan Roberts
Award winning experimental theatre company The Danger Ensemble delivers a challenging and at times confronting work in Let Men Tremble.
Created by Director/ Designer Steven Mitchell Wright, this piece is inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a 19th century story set in 17th century Puritanical Colonial America. It is a piece of historical fiction effectively reinvented to address and challenge the patriarchal control over "the other"... over women.
So the play begins with the rigorous casting audition for The Scarlet Letter. Women perform a dance sequence over and over again. Their movements scrutinized by 3 men. The gaze is intense, they are the decision makers.
The woman wear enthusiastic, unwavering smiles.
Hope I'm good enough!
Hope I am chosen!
It is when the women have finished and are getting dressed, these men address the audience. They introduce themselves under many names and titles as the men throughout time who create and control all stories.
The performance continues with the primary narrative being broken up with song, with dance and actors breaking with character to directly address the audience. This is not easy theatre, this is not benign escapist entertainment. What is clear that from time immemorial men have created structure, eg religion, that has served a narrative of dominance and control. A narrative that has cast women as "less than".
There is a particularly powerful moment where a role call is given of the names of women documented as having died violently at the hands of men. The role call is long and proves to be a shocking jolt to the audiences understanding that male control, anger and violence is not safely consigned to historical fiction.
Stark and simple in design and costume, potent imagery is effectively employed. A huge bright crucifix stamps the safe space for Christian doctrine. Where the female cast intially are dour and sexless dressed in black, slowly they are empowered to show themselves as they choose, as they see themselves, as they choose to be seen. Not in command but with intent. Black is shed to become bold red, red not of shame but of power.
The strength of performance is testament the ensemble cast as a whole. Yes women have worn the labels generated by men, whether it's a letter on her dress or a digital#. But, rather than leaving the audience hopeless, what was will always be, there is a defiant Battlecry ... change will come. The final scenes show men, no longer confident in power and place, but instead, gagged and finally stripped naked before all... To be held accountable.
Let Men Tremble leaves you under no illusion and very hopeful that in this era of #MeToo movement that the safe, masculine structures of millenia are to be exposed, denounced and to never go unchallenged.
The Danger Ensemble and Theatre Works present
Let Men Tremble
Director Steven Mitchell Wright
Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 14 – 25 August 2019
Tickets: $45 – $30