Under My Thumb
Culture Clash Theatre and Greenwich Theatre
Greenwich Theatre Studio
What do you do with women who refuse to submit to sexist and abusive treatment? The world of Cassiah Joski-Jethi’s play Under My Thumb has the answer. It transfers them to some sort of prison perhaps intended to ‘rehabilitate’, where they sleep in groups, are fed tins of gruel and given little more than plastic sheets to sleep under.
With such fine treatment, they are bound to see the error of their ways, admit whatever it was got them into the place was their own fault and be released into the community of men. To help in the process, their statement of submission will be filmed to encourage the rest.
The play centres on six women in one particular room of this prison. They are clearly not ready to comply with the process. As they quarrel about what they should do instead, we hear something of the reasons they objected to the world beyond the prison walls.
Lily (Alice De-Warrenne) was sick of being made to feel like a piece of meat for the sexual use of men. Nev (Jessica Aquilina) describes being sexually abused from the age of six by an uncle. The tipping point for Hattie (Charlotte Green) was the demand from her employers that she wear heels to work.
Hattie is the one who is certain they must fight their way out. The play opens with her bullying two of the women to fight each other as a way of toughening them up. She is helped by the street tough Sam (Cassandra Hercules) who seems ready and angry enough at any time to fight anyone.
Two things change the situation. The five initial occupants of the cell are joined by Rea (Serin Ibrahim) who has a very different view about the solution to their problem. It involves revealing to the group that one of them is going to have a baby that will be taken away unless they make a statement of submission.
The world of men is never far away. It is in their stories of insensitivity and abuse. It is also there in the surveillance which monitors their every conversation and action. Occasionally these men would bang on the ceiling to remind the women of their presence.
Solid performances from the cast maintain the dramatic pace and make us care what happens to the women. In particular, Alice De-Warrenne is very effective as the conflicted Lily who sees both the possibility of Hattie’s solution while recognising the value of the more pragmatic if potentially compromised solution of Rea.
None of the solutions seems likely to win a different kind of world where women were not disrespected and abused. But there is a kind of hope in the way these women learn to care what happens to each other. In that solidarity, something better might emerge.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna