A Period Piece – Menstruation and imagination. (Theatre Review)
A Period Piece
Old 505 Theatre 14 – 25 March
The idea that truth is made rather than found is a little over two hundred years old and unsurprisingly began for the Western World in Europe. The French revolution showed that an entire vocabulary of social relations, which included the whole spectrum of social institutions, could be replaced overnight. We’ve seen something similar in the onset of what is disparagingly referred to today as “political correctness.’ The dominant white male narrative that all of us others have laboured under is being questioned, and this has resulted in the transformation of social policy and impacted the law. So much so, that the “standard” has become reactionary, and the ‘mainstream’ is to consider alternate points of view. Regressive, old-fashioned white males are now pitting themselves as the put-upon victims of everyone else – all because ‘the other’ claim the freedom of speech to define and ourselves our way, and label them according to how we see them. Something that is difficult for them to accept belongs to all of us – not just them.
We come then, to Glitterbomb’s show currently on at The Old 505 Theatre in Newtown. The point is not so much that menstruation is a taboo subject, or one about which we are not allowed to speak. Instead, Glitterbomb’s show highlights the fact that the female period is constantly discussed in a certain way, that intentionally alienates a female from her own experience. Menstruation is discussed as a medical condition, part of how babies are made, or a hygiene issue, a point writer Gretel Vella has problems with. The solution is a transformation she brings to the fore in her clever comic show. With a focus on female experience and female jokes/perspective, her comic skits include; period pain as a natural phenomenon; the unexplored erotic fantasy of vampires and menstruating women; the love/hate relationship between a woman and her monthly cycle; presumptions about periods causing blocks in career advancement; and the horrors of the bloody stain. At no point does the show discuss menstruation in reference to pregnancy or conception, dirt or smells or medical conundrums. The discussion of menstruation isn’t a taboo – what we are allowed to say about it is, and Glitterbomb have found a way to by-pass mansplaining and discuss this very normal topic outside the designated barriers.
To imagine that menstruation has been properly defined is to presume that an impartial truth lies ‘out there’ untainted by its very construct – our sentences. He who controls the language, controls consensus and ideas. Because it is a ‘he’ who has controlled the conversation on menstruation, the conversation has been restricted to its parameters with an ever-vigilant society aggressively keeping it in place. Kiran Gandhi was vilified by the press and keyboard warriors for bleeding freely during the London marathon. The constant language about periods being to do with babies, hygiene and medicine demands aggressive verbal assault on she who refuses to speak about it in those terms. Gretel Vella leaves reproduction out of the conversation about menstruation. Instead it is discussed as a thing that happens to some women. A thing that happens to a lot of women, in fact.
What we caught an early whiff of at the end of the eighteenth century was that anything could be made to look good or bad, important or unimportant, useful or useless, by being redescribed. The problematic result of this is human females are created by the vocabulary that describes them. Any alteration of this as fact (or truth) involves refusing the previous definitions and assimilating new ones. For guidance, we can turn here to the Romantics who made the claim that imagination, rather than reason, is the central human faculty and a talent for speaking differently rather than arguing well is the chief instrument of social change. In this age where the leader of the free world is not a highly competent woman but a woefully inadequate man, an opportunity exists for women to grasp the narrative and re write history – indeed not just women, but all woke individuals. We find ourselves today torn between a contest over entrenched vocabularies which have become a nuisance and half-formed new vocabularies which vaguely promise great things. Why is the current conversation around menstruation exciting? Because its breaking taboos in an age when we thought we were freer than ever is waking us up to our imaginations.
Aside from all that depth and complexity, A Period Piece is a light and very funny little series of sketches that plays with the questions of language and taboo. My favourite skit involved a woman in a dance with her period, which was the creative expression and climax of her cycle. Its starts with the female turning to her period-dressed-as-a-man and exclaiming “you’re late.” It’s a delightfully imaginative realisation of the perpetual dance the female cycles represent. The drama, flamboyance and volatility of the communication is drastically under expressed in our culture and one can’t help seeing, in this short skit alone, books, songs, films and plays emerging from the human relationship with such an impacting force of nature within. That women walk around and ‘act normal’ while this enormous biological process is going on is a lost opportunity for much artistic expression.
Carissa Licciardello and Gretel Vella have assembled a fine cast of performers to realise their creation. A Period Piece is a funny, lively joyful show, easy to love and sure be the conduit for a great night. Alongside all the vaudevillian fun and ode to clowning is a depth that moves beyond simple political correctness. A Period Piece is nothing less than a dramatic appeal to the imagination and therefore to our freedom as beings who construct our world.