The Female Gaze and Other Stories (Cockpit Theatre) ★★★★

The Female Gaze Cockpit TheatreRich Creative present a new feminist scratch night, aiming to deliver a different theme each time with an array of separate stories roughly 10-15 minutes long apiece, all connected by a common theme: in this case, ‘the female gaze’. This particular performance was entitled: ‘Volume 1: The Sexual Odyssey’, and consisted of seven pieces.

‘The Curious Case of Millicent Marz’ was a cheerful piece to open with, with Frances Knox (also the writer) showing an energetic and truly likeable Amy Schumer-esque vibrancy that lends itself (obviously) well to comedic pieces. Much of the content was relatable, and I noticed many a woman in the audience nodding away at certain points in agreement (we’ve all wondered if we’re cursed in love at one point or another). I also enjoyed Abe Buckoke’s laidback, nipple-flashing stint as Aphrodite.

The second piece, ‘The Wrong Idea’, set a different tone, discussing the incredibly frustrating reality that is 21st-century dating. We all know how ridiculous dating is nowadays: ‘Are we in a relationship, or just seeing each other?’ is a common struggle. But what is truly the difference between ‘seeing’ someone and being in a relationship? Usually very little, but in a world where getting to know someone romantically can be more stressful than a game of Uno, this piece asks us to question our present reality of self-transparency and the obsession with masking vulnerability.

Annabelle Rich and Jasper William Cartwright depict two individuals facing that exact social anxiety, calling into question the interplay of power and politics in romantic involvement.

The third, ‘Fantasy’, felt almost ethereal; I felt sufficiently transported to the location, making the dark content of the story feel almost organically real. This piece presented, for me, the most problematic content of the entire production, and I felt the writing of the male lead was excellent at capturing the complexities of emotional blackmail and the currency of sex. I would, however, have preferred the image of the female lead to be less juvenile – whilst she is fifteen, the outfit and hair felt like that of a much younger girl, feeling too exaggerated. The fourth, ‘It’s All Relative’, brought to the table issues of declaring one’s sexuality to family, and the discussion of the distaste towards first-cousin relationships. MJ Lee’s performance was particularly outstanding – raw and unapologetically bold, a tribute to maintaining personal pride in one’s sexuality.

Following the interval, we had ‘It Was Just There’. Of them all, this was the most ‘immersive’ for the audience in terms of our ability to develop our own theories and conclusions about the content. Unlike any in the first half, this story was deliberately ambiguous, and I enjoyed being able to personally wonder what the intricacies of the characters’ relationship were. ‘Be Mine For Me’ was the triumph of the evening, managing to convey, with much fewer words, more meaning and emotion than its other script-abundant peers. Both Emily Warren’s writing and performance invoked a heart-wrenching reaction, presenting the struggles of unrequited passion and longing, and a desperation to mould oneself into someone new in the hope of becoming desirable. It was both startlingly beautiful and inherently tragic, and I applaud Francesca Tennant’s staging of the piece.

Finally, ‘A-Sexual-Being’ closed the night. This was the most intellectually challenging and articulate of the pieces, exploring different viewpoints on asexuality, monogamy, polygamy and the restrictive act of labelling sexuality and sexual choices. Angelina Chudi and Dylan Morris worked well together as actors exemplifying polar-opposite viewpoints, with different approaches in responding to sexual urges and the romantic involvement with sex.

I would like to see the structure of this performance revisited; the second half of the show had an arguably much more sombre, analytical approach to the topic of sexuality and the ‘female gaze’, and comparing the last few performances with the first (‘Curious Case’) unfortunately makes ‘Volume 1: The Sexual Odyssey’s configuration feel disparate and a little confused. I’ve no doubt that the performances were chosen specifically in this order, but I think that a re-shuffle (e.g.: relinquish the ‘heaviness’ of the second half by positioning Frances Knox’s comedic opening piece mid-way through the arrangement, to raise the tone within the theatre) would better benefit the flow of the evening.

I must commend the musicality of this entire production – poignant, well-chosen audio, reflecting the tone and focus of each individual piece.

These artists – writers, producers, actors and creatives alike – have successfully approached the topic of 21st century and millennial femininity with sensitivity and eloquence. In a political and social era where the female voice is being examined and highlighted more than ever, work like this is deeply important – particularly for feminism.

Reviewed by Laura Evans