Nine Foot Nine is a clever piece of dystopian theatre highlighting gender imbalance, produced by the Sleepless Theatre Company. It features the characters of Cara, Nate and their daughter Sophie, whom we visit in a chronology which transcends time and space, allowing us to dip in and out of their lives in no particular order. This mechanism allows us to parallel the cause and effect of various decisions made by the characters, and highlighting the raw realities of gender manipulation, family decay and the issues which divide us.
An hour of thought provoking, innovative theatre which finishes too quickly and leaves us with unanswered questions.
Nine Foot Nine is a reference to a sudden phenomena to hit women worldwide, who start ‘sprouting’ to hulking proportions. Along with their height comes extraordinary strength, and society feels the need to come up with a plan to ‘deal with this’. There are strong parallels and messages around gender politics in this production, and a gender flipping which sees women leaving the family home to independently control their own destinies; men attempting to teach their daughters on the notions of consent and power imbalance, and gendered bullying when girls don’t reach the towering heights expected by their peers. We also see how men, even when powerless, still attempt to fetishise women, getting off on being dominated by these tall, strong women and ‘climbing over them like they’re a large animal’. The reactions of both society and men to this ‘problem’ echoes the way in which women are seen in society today, and as a young Sophie is repressed for her difference, we see that even when women have all the power in society, they are still conditioned to experience self loathing and isolation. A particularly stand out moment for me was when Cara remarks on how often her daughter apologises, noting that it’s ‘a way that we make ourselves smaller, not wanting to be a nuisance’. Women are conditioned not to take up space in the world, to keep ourselves small and silent. when this doesn’t happen, the result is we become a problem that needs solved.
The performances of ‘the sprouting’ were delivered well, particularly by the actor playing Sophie (Misha Pinnington), who used the mechanism of physical movement to almost dance through the trauma. Sleepless Theatre Company have created an accessible production, with an autocue available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. One of the characters signs throughout the production, and there are references to same sex couples in some of the voiceovers.
Alexandra James, Paul O’Dea and Misha Pinngton make a likable enough trio as Cara, Nate and Sophie. However the persistent, clumsy costume changes detracted from the performance for me, and I wondered why this was even necessary. The use of a few props could have echoed a change in time and circumstance without leaving the audience waiting. Although the concept behind this show was strong, it needs a bit of refinement to hone the vast amount of subtle nuances which I fear may be missed by the average theatre goer. Though even on a basic level, Nine Foot Nine is an hour of thought provoking, innovative theatre which finishes too quickly and leaves us with unanswered questions which is what any good production would hope to achieve.