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The Irish question
In the wake of controversies concerning rape, legalisation of abortion and unmarried motherhood, Ireland has begun to question ifthe rights of its female citizens match up to those oftheir male counterparts. Miranda France previews Misogynist. and Eclipsed (below).
It would be a hot potato ifwe ever talked about it. but we don‘t and it isn‘t: misogyny — hatred of women — is the theme of a new play by Michael Harding, a celebrated and controversial Irish playwright who has long been intrigued by the way in which subjects such as rape. discrimination or domestic violence are regarded as a problem for women. but not for men. ‘There‘s something about the word misogyny that puts a spotlight on women as victims.‘ says Harding. ‘1 found that if you ask five women what the word means. at least four ofthem know. If
you ask five men. they say ‘I don‘t
I know what that‘s about‘ or ‘it‘s too
i obscure‘. [feel that they should
I know. Ifthe word‘s there. that means that there‘s an experience of it. If there's an experience. why isn‘t there more analysis? If you make it just a woman‘s problem then men get off the hook.‘
In his new play he explores the misogynistic instincts that lurk in the mind ofeven the most liberal man, the sort who says ‘I‘m a bit of a feminist myself. as well as the variety that clings stubbornly to church, government and public institutions. The final. dark ending ofthe play shows how the hatred can become magnified and distorted in a killer with a vendetta against women. Acclaimed Irish actor Tom Hickey takes the anonymous role. slipping and sliding between a range of all-too-familiar characters.
Misogynist was first performed at the 1990 Dublin Theatre Festival to considerable controversy. Like
Thelma and Louise. the production tended to glean enthusiastic reviews from female critics and negative ones from men, who thought it ‘irrelevant’. Since then the production has changed. The fifteen women who served as chorus, and the large scale sets, which gave the piece an operatic ﬂavour have gone, giving the core of the play more punch.
Ireland‘s political climate has changed too: women‘s rights have come very much to the fore, particularly since the High Court ruled that a fourteen-year-old girl who had been raped by her friend‘s father could not leave the country to have an abortion — a decision which was later revoked. ‘There‘s been a serial eruption of controversy in Ireland over the last six months,‘ says Harding. ‘It‘s been non-stop since January. It’s awful that any of things had to happen, but it did make people have another look at the play.’
Even ifHarding stresses that the play has no political agenda, it has had its place in the debate, even at a local level. Harding and Hickey have been taking the show to small rural theatres, where they hold a discussion afterwards on the meaning of misogyny. Audiences tend to be 70 per cent women and responses range from the humorous to the enraged. ‘One woman said she’d like to fucking kill me.’ laughs Hickey.
I Misogynlst (Fringe) Tom Hickey, Assembly (Venue 3) 226 2428, 14—27 Aug, 4pm, £6 (£5); 21—22 Aug, £7 (£6).
Hidden shame ;
Eclipsed is also a new play— this time by Patricia Burke-Brogan, and also a controversial one, especially in the light at recent happenings in Ireland. The play is set in a ‘Magdalen’, or ‘penltents’ laundry, stalled by women who have disgraced their tamllies and parishes by getting pregnant out at wedlock.
Until about 25 years ago it was common lor unmarried mothers to be divested oi their oilspring and sent ‘to the nuns’ to wash away their sins by washing other people’s dirty laundry. The work, which was unpaid, generated a healthy income for the church in Ireland. The unmarried iathers concerned escaped the disgrace meted out to their partners. ‘Dependlng on the situation, some women could end up spending their
whole lives there,’ says Punchbag’s Sean Evers. ‘ln lact, there are still eleven women living together in Galway. When the laundry doors closed in the 19708 they were too institutionalised to leave.’
Eclipsed has met with a tremendous response on its Irish run, especially since, like Misogynist, it is riding a wave at growing public debate concerning women’s rights in the republic. The lrlsh Times —whose editorial came out strongly in lavour ol the young rape victim who wanted to laminate her pregnancy- suggested
that all lrlsh MPs be ‘Irogmarched’ to see it belore Iegisiating lurther on women’s issues. Punchbag lound that the subject oi penitentiai homes was so taboo that many younger people were unaware oi their existence.
For a theatre company that courts controversy, it is wrny appropriate that
g Punchbag’s patron is none otherthan
Bishop Casey- wherever he may be —
: the exposed lather at an illegitimate é child himsell, and beloved of British
tabloids. Evers says that Casey has been an inspiration to Punchbag. ‘He was a great man and a supporter oi controversial work, challenging ideas
e on homosexuality and women's
situation, as well as a great lriend and motlvatorlor me personally. I miss him around Galway.’ Even so, the irony cannot have escaped him that Bishop Casey’s punishment would have been cruelier had he been an unmarried mother, ratherthan a ‘lallen' priest. Eclipsed (Fringe) Punchbag. Richard Demarco Theatre (Venue 22) 557 0707, 17—29 Aug, 3pm, 25 (£3.50).
Miranda France picks outlive aliernodn treats.
avant-garde, right-on circus troupe returns with an ‘hysterical historical comical chronicle‘. Ousted from a patriarchal heaven, three goddesses come down to earth seeking alternative employment. Juggling, illusion, magic tricks and ioadsa laughs.
Angels and Amazons (Fringe) Ra-Ra Zoo, Gilded Balloon Theatre (Venue 38) 226 2151, 14Aug—5 Sept (not Tues), 3pm, £6.50 (£5.50/£3.50).
I The Mic ol Still! A brand new urban comedy set in an underworld of drug-dealers, performed with relish by the Traverse‘s very own company and written by their very own Simon Donald (see him in Columbus: Blooding the Ocean).
The Life ofStuff (Fringe) Traverse Company, Traverse (Venue 15) 228 I40] , 11 Aug—5 Sept, various times, £ 7.
I The End at the Tunnel The impossibly enigmatic Philippe Gaulier returns to tease Fringe audiences with his ‘bouffon‘ brand of theatre and mime. Gaulier has taught and inspired other companies at the Fringe, including Benchtours (see preview). Tres Francais.
The End ofthe Tunnel (Fringe)
C ompagnie Philippe Gaulier, Assembly (Venue 3) 226 2428, I6 Aug—5 Sept, 5. 40pm, £7—£8 (£6—£7). I Tutti Flutti Get your mind round this: she‘s ‘Australia‘s “Madonna” ofthe classical flute‘, a ﬂautist with sex appeal and an irreverent sense of humour. James Gaiway will never sound the same again.
Tutti Flutti (Fringe) Jane Rutter, Assembly (Venue 3) 226 2428, 14 Aug—5 Sept, 4pm, £6—£ 7 (£5—£6).
l Desdemona - It You Had Only Spoken! Eleanor Bron‘s stage adaptation and translation of Christine Bruckner‘s original script in which three of history‘s sleighted or side-tracked women finally get a word in edgeways.
Desdemona — If You Had Only Spoken! (Fringe) Eleanor Bron, Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, 14 Aug—5 Sept (not 16, 23, 1). 4.45pm, £6.50 (£5.50).
The List 14 — 20 August 1992 29