Review: Unsolicited at Royal Court Studio ***1/2
It was 10.30pm and there was a woman at the stop seeing her friend safely on to the bus I had just stepped off after returning from the Royal Court Studio.
We both separately turned for home – her determinedly chatting away on her phone, and me with my keys clamped between my fingers, warily negotiating our way safely to our own front doors in what every woman knows as a well-rehearsed routine.
In Unsolicited, the latest creative and thought-provoking production from All Things Considered Theatre, this constant state of awareness and self-policing is chronicled as part of the unspoken conditioning of the 51% of the world born with XX chromosomes.
Actors Ashleigh Owen, Frankie Gold, Holly Wright and Shannon Lavelle are four feisty, furious and sorrowful crewmates adrift on the endless seas of misogyny where unknown predators lurk in its deep waters and loiter on its island boltholes.
Meanwhile onboard, this sisterhood lives under the shadow of ‘internalised misogyny’ – in which women come to believe sexist stereotypes are true and judge themselves and other women accordingly.
While the word misogyny rises to the surface again and again, this isn’t an evening of theatrical misandry.
Instead, it’s a frank appeal to men to stop and think about how their words and actions might impact on, and have consequences for, women and girls.
Above: Ashleigh Owen. Top: Frankie Gold, Shannon Lavelle and Holly Wright. Photos by Brian Roberts.
The message is delivered through a mixture of larky vulgarity and harrowing testimony, party games and puppetry, songs and speeches.
The narrative navigates its way from the unwanted attentions of drunken clubbers and random passers-by to men ‘slipping in’ to DMs and unsolicited photos of private parts, from stereotypical tropes to public transport gropes to expectations of how women should look and behave driven by online influencers and easy access to porn, to assault and murder.
Being a woman is simply exhausting.
A lot of passion and attention has clearly been poured in to Unsolicited, although at present it still feels rather like a work in progress.
The first half sprawls – tightening it to a round hour would help, while the current ending feels like it lacks requisite impact after what is a powerful second act.
But this is a show with huge potential, and with important things to say about the female experience.