HERSTORY recounts the stories of ten women from across history, through their own eyes. Four performers sing orginal pieces, self-accompanied on keyboard, guitar, hand drums and ukelele.
Contemporary references effectively illustrate the role of women in society.
The songs are peppered with contemporary references, which effectively illustrate the role of women in society, across different periods. The Boudicca piece notes her success as a warrior, contrasted with the fact that it was only in 2016 that women were allowed to engage in close combat frontline roles in the military.
Four-part harmonies are successfully used, with the musical accompaniment being most powerful in a song about a 19th century American journalist who admitted herself to an asylum in order to report on the treatment of patients. Powerful drum beats create an intense atmosphere, teamed with a repetitive chorus which portrays a harrowing and moving experience. A spooky gothic piece about the quest for eternal youth utilises high-pitched harmonies to spine-tingling effect. However, a celebration of fossil hunter Mary Anning, presented from the view of a T-Rex, failed to land due to its attempt at a punk-style song which is not carried off convincingly.
Props and costume changes were used to contextualise each piece, ranging from an entertaining use of vulva fascinators in a song about sex workers, to a confusing piece where the serious issue of male violence against women is addressed through the medium of hand puppets.
As a feminist piece, it was surprising that a woman from history who was obsessed with her body size made the final list. Her song appeared to refer to fat-shaming and condoned the female beauty myth of women wanting to be a ‘size zero hero’. Perhaps further consideration was needed in how this woman was portrayed, and indeed why they chose to celebrate the life of a woman driven solely by wanting to be thin.
You could tell it was the show's first-night as there were some clunky changeovers between scenes and a forgotten line. The venue, a storage container within the Warren Bar, is abject to noise pollution from outside; the performers’ use of the mic needed refinement, particularly when reading the narrative, to enable the audience to hear and follow the words clearly. A short film reel at the end of the show, where people recounted their most inspiring women came across with an amateur feel, as the image projected was across the set and props, with some speaker’s heads in the film being off-centre. This part could have been left out, without detracting from the message of the film.
There were a few funny lines about Dutch resistance bicycle fighters, to which the audience responded with some laughter, but on the whole the evening was more about engaging with the stories, rather than a comedic experience.
If you like to be immersed in a musical narrative of historical story-telling, then this show is for you.