From catharsis to empowerment

“Let Me Finish” presented by UntitledThe Blue Room Theatre and Charlotte Otton is a fast-paced and dynamic series of vignettes with song, dance and raw, emotional stories and confessions.

The five young women first appear in a night club toilet and each one reiterates the physical and verbal incidents, mainly of a sexual nature, they’ve had to endure during the night at the club. Even though these are familiar utterances, the women express their anger and contempt for having to repeatedly endure them night after night.

The women backtrack to the “boy crazy” teenage years with a vignette which seems to suggest that those moments of silliness and adulation of boys as teenagers inadvertently establishes and continues these male/female relations into adulthood. However, these girls want change. They are discovering new worlds of intimacy, connection and expression and want to break free from the future that society has mapped out, and the limitations placed on themselves and each other.

The first few scenes paint a familiar picture for the audience and seem to be making immature generalisations, however, the false sense of simplification quickly disperses when a new scene begins that sees each woman speak to the photo of themselves at seven years old. They talk about the relationships they had with family members, or they mention a facial feature or an item of clothing they’re wearing, or what was important or a source of anguish to them at that time. Ultimately, the women are revealing those moments when they started to scrutinise their own individuality. This scene immediately grounds the play. Suddenly we realise that what we are experiencing are very real, intimate memories that each woman has chosen to share with us. This scene is repeated twice: the first with photos when they were twelve years old; and again with a recent photo as twenty-something women. Each repetition is poignant and cathartic.

In between these scenes, the performers draw us deeper into their experiences as women and, particularly for the women that have non-Anglo/European ancestry, the pressure to reveal and prove their “diversity”. This scene is cleverly delivered just at the time that the diversity of the performers is inconsequential. But I think that is the point. Raising the issues of race and ethnicity is jarring and unnecessary when what we have witnessed is the sharing of experiences, aspirations and anxieties that are universal. Of course, there is the danger of stifling the growth of the parameters of acceptability and belonging where multicultural communities all behave and sound the same. Cultural and racial differences are an easy target for bigots who want to perpetuate racism and discrimination, yet, eradicating or ignoring these differences is perpetuating the myth of the superior and fixed White Anglo/European society. I could see the point of the scene and the need to highlight the added pressure for women from diverse backgrounds – though this subject deserves a more rigorous exploration.

There is much to admire about this production. Charlotte Otton as Producer, Lead Creative and Performer has assembled a mighty group of young women whose contributions are respected and handled both with care and reckless abandon. The game show scene is particularly adept at transforming what may have been shameful and/or embarrassing events into sources of comedy and entertainment, thereby dispelling the shame and embarrassment – again, giving each other and the audience an invitation for catharsis. Diminishing and discarding those moments and memories that hold us back is an extremely important message. 

I suspect that the process for this production was entirely collaborative and supportive: setting the tone for Director, Phoebe Sullivan, Assistant Director & Dramaturge, Simone Detourbet and Devisors/Performers, Charlotte Otton, Izzy McDonald, Angela Mahlatjie, Jess Moyle, Ana Ika to create this autobiographical performance that is delivered with generosity and humility but is never self-indulgent.

Producer/Production Manager Emily Stokoe, Lighting Designer Phoebe Pilcher, Sound Designer Rebecca Riggs-Bennett (Elsewhere/Rebecca) and Set & Costume Designer Olivia Tartaglia, each contribute to the performance with intelligent and appropriate choices, and the sound/lighting operation is flawless. I hope this production can be adapted to tour through high schools. Some of the expletives would need to be toned down to potentially provide an outlet for both boys and girls to understand the complexities of growing up female, and to open up discussions about how female/female, male/female and male/male relations could evolve for a more healthy and cohesive society.