As we enter the effortlessly quirky Butterfly Club and the intimate space where Collaborator is staged, we are met with a woman sitting on stage, smoking a cigarette in what appears to be her dressing room. The space is small and doesn’t allow for an elaborate set (an armchair, coat rack and dressing table); which perfectly suits Collaborator as it focuses mainly on the art of story telling. ‘Cass’ then begins to address us, instantly transforming the audience-performer dynamic by offering us the opportunity to leave if we want to but also pointing out that she will be critiquing our exit should we choose to do so. As is human nature, the audience now feels obliged to stay even though they may not want to. Is this how women feel on a daily basis? Obliged to laugh off sexual assaults as horseplay? Trapped in situations that they are uncomfortable in because they fear how they will come across to others? I’m not sure, but I feel that this was an intentional move on the part of writer Yussef El Guindi and set the tone for the piece well.
‘Cass’ begins by explaining to us that her need for attention is completely professional-not emotional, however she will be measuring her worth tonight based on how much attention we as an audience pay her. We have inadvertently become part of the show. There appears to be a general aim here of making the audience feel slightly uncomfortable, as though they can’t completely relax because they’re being watched – a feeling which can be all too familiar as a woman.
Once she has created this atmosphere, actress Kelley Young then begins to engage us in the story of a confident, yet at times childlike, young woman’s encounters with men over the years. From the tale of her first kiss and the certainty of happiness that came with it, to stories of experiences where she’s felt varying levels of threat from the opposite sex; something which I’m certain that most women in the audience could relate to. Although Collaborator is sure to point out a need for attention in it’s female character; I couldn’t help but feel that the piece generalised the male species a little too often for me. As a feminist myself, I’m fully aware of how many people misinterpret feminism for ‘male hatred’ and at some points in the show I felt that there could have been a more articulate way to present certain themes.
Having said this, I don’t wish to undermine the importance of the issues raised in Collaborator in anyway. Sexual assault is never an easy subject area to navigate and with the recent eruption of both men and women speaking out about their experiences involving certain celebrities, a one woman show such as this has never been more relevant. The audience is taken on a journey through the events of an average woman’s life, the various stories are fragmented enough to maintain the audiences’ attention but not so much that we enter the realms of post dramatic theatre, this performance sits well within the genre of naturalism. As the stories and characters in them evolve, we explore ‘Cass’s’ own experience of rape as she tries to make sense of what happened to her. My favourite aspect of this performance is it’s raising the question of ‘what constitutes rape?’; such a difficult concept to approach, yet both writer and performer have done very well to present it. Well into the performance we are hit with the twist in the piece (no spoilers here), but I will say that that Collaborator takes a clever turn which ultimately results in its’ content becoming all the more real for the audience.
All in all, strong writing and a solid performance, if you’re looking for relevant yet classic feminist theatre, this one’s for you.