Theatre review: Barely Visible

I wolf down a chip supper after work and catch my usual service 3 bus for my first visit to The Old Electric venue and a radical, one-woman dance show. On entering, I had no idea what to expect.

Entering the stageless auditorium, I find myself on the front row of this intimate space – as a shy person, not necessarily good for me, but hey, I try and go with it. The only scenery was a metal disk with a protruding pole. Right on cue, choreographer and performer, Rowena Gander, appears and the show is on.

It consists of a mix of dance, speech, light effects and voice recordings and centres on the issues that have and do affect lesbians as they go about their daily lives. Rowena manipulates the metal disk, which rolls around the stage – this looks dangerous, but it has obviously been rehearsed to the nth degree. Later it becomes the plinth for the pole, which Rowena scales with incredible athleticism.

The show’s phases are almost impossible to encapsulate. Recorded voices are a compelling thing, including Margaret Thatcher at her most vicious – apparently people don’t have the right to be gay, and of course there was Section 28 – such a hideously homophobic thing. Did I also pick out Mary Whitehouse in there? Correct me if I’m wrong. Voices from a bygone age, or are they?

Later we are on to the things that people seem to think they are entitled to say and ask about lesbian private lives and challenging the validity of that identity, implying sometimes that it can be cured. Just a catalogue of the stupid, lewd and sheer nasty things that people say about lesbians and lesbianism. And which clearly drive them up the wall.

Rowena’s dance is incredibly strong – just trying any of that would land me in hospital immediately. Whether miming taking shots, rolling frenetically about the floor, or scaling that pole. And so much commitment, and saying so much with movement.

Speaking of the pole, this is the only show I’ve seen that includes a set of allen keys as part of the act, used here to break the pole from its base and to reduce it to two sections. This was used in an audience participation section, another reason why I don’t like to be on the front row (not me, not me!). A young chap was asked to join in, a role play about lifting the pole. He did so well – rather him than me. Earlier, in a section focused on femininity and demands for women, including lesbians, to be feminine, another chap was asked to smear lipstick on Rowena’s face, to go with the symbolic dirt that was there already.

Things slowed down slightly when a red dress appears, used firstly as a prop but then it is changed into. That is the closing image of the piece, the strong woman in the striking red dress. On the way we have passed through all the unpleasant, lazy stereotyping – womanly, butch, lipstick, feminine – that is applied to lesbians and lesbian relationships. For a straight man, an eye-opening experience and one that leaves a certain amount of shame.

After the show and a brief respite for Rowena to wash and change, there was a short question and answer session, which got quite emotional and included one chap recounting that he had not come out until he was 63 and the reasons behind that. A very rude word was used with regard to Margaret Thatcher. Rowena said that the piece was autobiographical and there were decisions as to what should be shared. The lack of lesbian focused pieces was noted. Well, now there is certainly this fine piece.

I disposed of my empty water can (£1 and probably more recyclable than plastic) and wandered through to Market Street to catch the service 6 home. A fine show, a nice crowd and a good atmosphere. Congratulations to all involved.




Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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