Last night, I cried.
But then I went home on the bus feeling empowered as a female, determined to never take s**t from anyone ever again. And that was exactly what the Fiona Whelan of the Rialto Youth Project (RYP) and Brokentalkers wanted me to feel.
Beginning with a candlelit tribute to RYP members tragically lost, the audience was then launched straight into the story of a female named Hope. With graphic examples, the audience were told of situations Hope had not yet come across in her young life.
“She hasn’t had to see how fast she can unbuckle a seatbelt when under the weight of a local businessman who is making it hard for her to breathe”
Using imaginative props, lighting techniques, and vocal effects, real stories of oppression and violence are told. But in the midst of these tales of gender inequality, hope always shines through. The stories were gathered from local Rialto women, and told through the figure of Hope- a mannequin deftly operated by one of the Rialto Youth Group members.
Stilt walkers in wolves’ masks menacingly stepped up behind Hope, creating huge shadows that brilliantly conveyed the “shadow of the wolf” that many women experience in their “bubbles”– the places they feel trapped in.
Song and dance was used to portray feelings of being trapped, with RYP member Niamh Tracey’s poignant self-penned song ‘Someone to Blame’ describing not only how many women feel, but also how the power of community can create so much.
The theme of community was also found in the group of women continuously knitting in the background, representing local amenities. The knitters handed up several props throughout, from a debs dress to a curiously knitted IV drip. After a scene about domestic violence, young majorettes filed out and danced to The Crystals’ ‘And Then He Hit Me’, pompoms glittering and twirling.
Lack of humour was queried in the Q & A, but I felt that black humour was present, particularly during one major plot twist. As another member of the audience stated, gender inequality and class inequality are in themselves obviously serious matters. Another comment was that so many of us do hide behind humour, as a defence mechanism. Both very true, but I felt that the humour was definitely present.
The Q & A included a Professor of Equality Studies from UCD, who contributed excellently to the discussion, mentioning that the performance highlighted not only class and gender injustice, but State harm in the lack of support services available in certain area.
Friday night’s performance was only the second ever performance of a “labour of love” that was “years in the making” according to RYP resident artist Fiona Whelan. The only male on the Q & A panel, Gary Keegan from Brokentalkers, said putting the play together was about “matching the energy and ability of the women to the piece”.
The women in question, some of whom had never done anything like it before, were a testament to Rialto and to all females. Their tenacity ensured the performance was constantly engaging; heartbreaking as though the material was, I was always looking forward to the next scene. Their confidence was spoken of, and RYP member Niamh responded by saying they were so confident because the performance was conducted in a “safe place”, which is a reassuring thing to hear.
Of course, no performance is perfect and at times it did feel like I was listening to a well-rehearsed speech. But this was a performance, not a play, and the fierceness of these women transcended. The mannequin of Hope freaked me out a little, but I soon got used to it.
Friday night’s performance of A Natural History of Hope was absolutely packed to the rafters, and received a standing ovation at the end.
And although the performance deserves to have a successful run, I left the theatre hoping I’d never have to see it again.
As one audience member put it, we’re all hoping for gender inequality to be completely obliterated someday.