Ana Daud and Dmitry Acrish inspired by the Bible
Tristan Bates Theatre
“I feel like a disembodied womb,” H commented as she left the theatre where she had just seen I'm Woman, an intense, very physical performance by Ana Daud.
The womb does indeed play a central part in the show. Most of the first forty minutes of the eighty-minute running time concerns itself with abortion. The image of a foetus moving is projected onto a back screen, while the voice of an unseen woman urges a woman to “push harder”. Then we get a cold, clinical male voice describing in detail how he is carrying out a late abortion, “tearing the limbs… crushing the skull… scraping the womb.”
The shocking details are followed by some solemn music and the projected statement on screen that eighty abortions had taken place in the world during the previous minute. It is followed by the actor Ana, asking how many of the audience have had an abortion and then reminding us that, “we are responsible for the life of a child.” The show concludes with a special return to motherhood via a video of a long line of men (only men) saying what it means to be a mother.
There are other things in the play, including a seven-minute piece on prostitution, which Ana tells us is someone of a higher socio-economic status paying someone of a lower socio-economic status for sex. And we also get the life of a mother enacted by Ana plucking from the audience a woman “volunteer”. As if this was her child, Ana strokes the woman’s arms, her throat, her hair, describing as she does being aged twenty-five when her daughter was born, being thirty when she was five years old and so on till the performer is aged eighty-five telling us about meeting up with her sixty-year-old daughter. It certainly had tears rolling down the face of the volunteer and had me desperately hoping I wouldn’t be volunteered for a male version of the life cycle illustrated.
After the show, in the cold rain outside, H’s companion E said they should go for a drink to recover, adding that, “there was a lot in the play, if she had only known what to do with it.” It’s true. Ana gave a very striking physical performance. You could imagine her as an impressive dancer. There are some thoughtful observations on the way men and women are subjected to different social expectations and she touched on many important issues, even if you don’t agree with what appears to be the play’s anti-abortion stance. Not that anyone is in favour of abortion. It's just that many of us feel that a woman should have the right to choose what she does with her body.
The real problem with the play is the sheer melodramatic intensity with which it tries to tug emotional strings without engaging us clearly with plot, character or ideas. And there were things that were never explained. Why, as we arrived into the theatre, were we divided with the request of “boys sit to the left of the rows. Girls to the right.” Was it to rekindle those early school memories of being likewise divided in case girls and boys sitting together discovered that they might have some things in common?
This is a play about motherhood but men do get attention. After the actor in role had been briefly speaking to God, she started to offer slices of orange to men, who she said also have their problems. “You worry about your erection,” she said offering one young man a slice of orange. I sat in the second row and fearing it wouldn’t be enough of a refuge from the gifts, I furiously wrote notes hoping this would put her off. It didn’t and I was offered the orange solution to whatever she had detected of my many problems.
“At least you got an orange slice,” E sighed afterwards in the rain. “We just had a load of men explaining to us what it was like to be a mother.”