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Bridle by Stephanie Martin at Camden People’s Theatre – Review

A challenging and disturbing piece of writing by Stephanie Martin. A woman’s unique sexuality is shown through the lens of male values, de-evolving during the slow, and charting the inexorable slide of her life into chaos. A woman is imprisoned, judged by a Kafkaesque star chamber, unseen accusers challenging in flat monotones. A woman has her persona fractured and splintered, her thoughts spoken by three actors; Elissa Churchill, Charlotte Clitheroe and Martin herself.

Three women, at times in shapeless jumpsuits, sometimes semi-naked, available, taunting and teasing, but asexual and unappealing. Three very different takes on the same woman’s story, a series of linked and sometimes overlapping observational monologues, vulnerable, pleading and desperate.

The woman’s isolated ego and self-esteem are conditional on the approbation of male peers, the sexual act in a failing relationship with a passive aggressive male ‘feminist’, becoming devoid of emotional bonding. She conflates pleasure and pain, and ‘consents’ to actual harm being done by the stunted and broken thing that is first world male sexually; men as much victims of a collective cognitive dissonance as the women they seek to control, including and especially among the liberal elite.

A non-linear, configurative work, intended to make the audience angry and, in that anger, expose and explore its own prejudices. A full-on assault of visceral, raw, intense emotion.

Flawed and messy. James, the comedy male feminist, was cliched and laboured, and whilst represented only by recording, insufficient thought had been given to his character and back story. The recordings themselves were flat and unconvincing, mock verbatim field recordings, but the stupid and controlling things men say in the real world are funnier and more disturbing.

The mocking of the legal system was clumsy, the language unconvincing. Real courts are darker, more hostile places, almost impossible to satirise. The libertarian argument, the freedom of the individual to accept harm, and where to draw the line of state interference, was not explored, and the whole subplot seemed like an afterthought. The appropriation of feminist language by men to control, dominate and violate women was better exposed by James.

The style of the storytelling was inconsistent. At times the monologues were delivered dramatically, as soliloquies. At other times, there was deliberate eye contact and audience engagement, crossing the line into stand-up. This did not appear to be a deliberate use of the conversational technique of a comedian, but rather poor writing, direction or discipline, smug asides to a partisan in-crowd.

The opportunity to use the talented cast explore dialogue and conflict between different aspects of this woman’s soul was not taken, and the roles of the three players, each individually excellent, were poorly defined. The pace dragged mid-show, probably because of a combination of several of the factors above, rather than performance or direction.

But also, some genuine highlights. The non-sexy strip-tease scene. Martin’s hymn of praise to her lady parts. And it made me angry, disturbed and more thoughtful about my own life, determined to work harder in my own relationship and challenged my own assumptions and prejudices, so job done.

This difficult play is at an early stage and should be considered as a work in development, dealing in an unusual way with an important subject. One to watch, but not for the faint hearted.

3 Star Review

Review by Laura Thomas

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to revenge-porn myself. I’ll film myself doing something really disgusting and post it on some tacky website. Because then I’ve beaten you to it. You can’t shame me, I’ve got there first”

Bridle is a contemporary satire on female sexuality and the attempts to control it. A woman is arrested for an unknown crime. In her cell, she discovers a file detailing every moment of “bad” behaviour. The sending and receiving of explicit images, affairs, breaking her engagements, watching offensive media as well as gently stalking ex-boyfriends.

Female sexuality and behaviour have subtly and without warning, become criminal offences. Shame, sexuality, heartbreak, pornography, violence, body image, freedom and control collide in Bridle, examining the need for new perspectives and narratives on sexuality and shame.

Presented by Clamour Theatre
26th April 2017
https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/

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