I am a fan of Eve Ensler. Not a great fan, but one of the many remote ones who think that she has tackled issues relating to women with some clarity and directness. She is known and honoured throughout the world for her commitment to ending the violence against women.
Her best known work, Vagina Monologues, is an in-your-face-work detailing some tender stories and I often wonder if the harshness of the title hasn’t done the work a disservice by making it “notorious” rather than piercing.
I was therefore very curious to see Emotional Creature, her newest work based on her book, being presented by a cast of six young professional actresses.
The work is not without its flaws. It is long and text heavy. It is not seamlessly constructed and the audience have to make leaps. The multimedia effect works brilliantly, but then later robs some of the vignettes of their power.
Designed for young and contemporary audiences, this play is startling in its power to touch one. It shows the pressures on young girls to be thin, to be nice, to be pretty, to be in, to be anything but what they are. The story of the girl who has a nose job doesn’t ring true, although I suppose it is possible that one could theoretically have a fifteen year old with a big schnozz who is already comfortable with using it to clown – it doesn’t seem likely to me though, ESPECIALLY in the light of the very real section which just came before that in which the girls at school reveal their insecurities.
The vignettes relating to other forms of abuse were more real, more urgent, more powerful. The one by a young Congolese girl abducted by soldiers was so moving that I had tears in my eyes. Some people in the audience responded by clapping while others wanted the silence to continue.
The issues keep tumbling out, showing how girls (and women, but mainly YOUNG WOMEN) are abused. It is long and then there is an epilogue. Unnecessary, perhaps. Certainly it feels as if it needs someone who is NOT an “Emotional Creature” to go through the text and edit it, tightening it so that the power is not lost while the text heaviness is improved. There are musical numbers which should, but don’t break the text heaviness adequately, but are sometimes very moving in their own right. The one which spoke volumes to me is the one about girls in short skirts. Our bodies under whatever we choose to wear are still ours, is the message.
Despite the flaws this is a work which I would love my nieces to see. It is a work which all young women (and young men) and those who love them should see. It is a work which governments and traditional decision makers should see. It is a work which religious leaders should see. It speaks of teen pregnancy, HIV, sex workers, human trafficking, body image issues, lesbianism, sexual insecurities, female genital mutilation, war rape, abduction, exploitative forced labour and … one’s senses are battered. It is harrowing, but it is also poignant and rich and rewarding.
This is great advocacy theatre powerfully presented.
The cast comprised Vuyelwa Maluleke (female circumcision), Ratanang Mogotsi (forced child labour), Barileng Malebye (abduction), Karabo Tshikube (corrective rape), Lara Lipschitz (rape in South Africa) and Zakeeya Patel (parental pressure). The music was by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and choreography by David Gouldie. It was directed by Jo Bonney.
Emotional Creature is on at UJ Arts Centre Theatre, University of Johannesburg from 18 to 30 July 2014 and in Cape Town, Flipside Baxter Theatre from 6 – 16 August 2014.