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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Dead Girls Rising (Tron Theatre)

Toxic healing, girls?


It is a curse of feminist theatre that it can never really solve the problems it raises. That is true of any art that discusses an important social issue, but it feels especially true when that topic is violence against women. But perhaps we should ask the Furies, three mythological goddesses reimagined as a punk band in Silent Uproar and Hull Truck Theatre’s Dead Girls Rising. Their answer is to kill men. When they are awoken Bloody-Mary-Style by protagonists Katie (Helen Reuben) and Hannah (Angelina Chudi) they proceed to trawl through the girl’s memories, weeding out violent men and giving them what they deserve. The question is, should Hannah and Katie do the same with their own kidnapped victim?

 

For a performance that is so inspired by punk, it is surprising just how tight it tries to be. Between the script by Mauneen Lennon and the direction by Ruby Clarke and Alex Mitchell lines are meant to hit one after the other: “the fear” “our fear” “it cannot stop” “it won’t stop” Hannah and Katie recite as they spiral in the opening scene. What seems like an attempt to replicate Carol Churchill sounds entirely too stiff when executed successfully, and wincingly sloppy when unsuccessful (which happens more than once). The set too, which comprises a forest and a large neon frame, boxes in the performance both literally and metaphorically. All the action has to take place within that frame, and what little space there is is dominated by trees. Much of the story is centred around a forest, but having it represented so literally makes the other imagined spaces (a childhood bedroom, a swimming pool, a TGI Fridays) seem unbalanced no matter how creatively portrayed.

 

Photo Credit: Grant Archer


In between the memories the Furies blast fiery feminist punk songs written by Anya Pearson with lines such as “we are pouring blue water on the maxi pad of your trauma”. Although the structure more resembles gig theatre than a cabaret as advertised, it is in these scenes where the themes, tones, and talents of the performers perfectly align. Violent fantasies about taking revenge on men are perhaps better articulated through punky outbursts of song than two-hour-long plays, where they start to struggle under the weight of plot and character. The idea of “Toxic Healing” is something that the Furies even highlight in a song, but the story doesn’t feel ironic or knowing enough to pull it off. Wishing violence on men is a dead-end philosophy, and that is something the characters come to realise. But as an audience that conversation comes too late, and unless you possess a similar feminist bloodlust, nay, immaturity, it is hard to become invested in their journey.

 

What Dead Girls Rising gets right is how it depicts the weight of violence against women. Trying to comprehend not just the rates of violence against yourself and your peers, but against all women living and dead, is impossibly onerous and Lennon shows that in Katie’s arc. But the real tragedy is not that we can’t make men suffer the way we have, it is that it wouldn’t make a difference anyway. Perhaps it is harsh to judge feminist theatre for not solving the problems it raises, but the least we ask of feminist theatre is to voice how we feel, to inspire action, or to soothe a collective pain. For all its empowering intentions Dead Girls Rising doesn’t take away the pain, it just pokes the bruise. Two stars.


Whispers from the crowd: "I really like it! It just felt uncomfortable in the best way. I liked that it was more nuanced than just hating men. I will be thinking about it for a long time after."

Dead Girls Rising has completed its run at the Tron Theatre but will play at The Traverse in Edinburgh from May 21st-23rd and at various locations in England in May and June - see Silent Uproar website for details.

Photo Credit: Grant Archer

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