The early nineties is a period that doesn’t often get a lot of attention. Lacking Margaret Thatcher, communism and the fantastic fashions, the early nineties have become a footnote to their more famous predecessor, ‘The Eighties’. At most, the early nineties are depicted as a necessary and dull warm-up act to the excitement of the dot.com boom at the end of the decade. Rosie Wilby, however, is a Nineties Woman and it is her personal story that is at the heart of her new solo show.
Rosie Wilby, however, is a Nineties Woman and it is her personal story that is at the heart of her new solo show.
Over a particularly antisocial Christmas with her father one year in Ormskirk (‘like Liverpool but without everything’) Rosie Wilby comes across a pile of old copies of the York University Women’s magazine, Matrix. Inspired, Wilby decides to track down her old university friends and frenemies, to see how their lives have changed, what has happened to their ideals in the interim, and to solve the problem of how a decade that started out with Riot Grrrl (Hole, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Veruca Salt) could end with Girl Power (The Spice Girls). There is also the promising opportunity of reconnection with Wilby’s unrequited love from university days, Kate.
Peppered with pictures from old protests, plenty of laughs, treasured cards from her unrequited crush and video of free perms from the bisexual hairdresser of Omskirk, Wilby’s story amusingly recalls this oft maligned era and draws out the interest and comedy in it. Intriguing personal stories (Wilby’s college neighbour once asked her out on a date by sticking a paper plate and plastic cutlery to her door), contrast to stories of the changing times (the complexity of early 90’s computers and their effect on magazine editing). Interviews with old university friends effectively break up Wilby’s monologue and flesh out this history of the student feminist movement.
My only quibble is the ending of both Wilby’s political and personal stories. As a feminist of the ‘noughties’, I was fascinated by Wilby’s initial question: how did a decade start so radical and end so conservatively? Wilby is a comedian and not a historian, but I wanted some sort of serious resolution to this question, even if Wilby felt the need to take the edge off her opinion with a joke or two. On the personal side, Wilby’s crush is built up throughout the show: Kate is the ultimate golden girl, the girl everyone loved (and everyone loved to hate). However, we never get to see (or hear) the Kate of today - she does not get her own interview. There may be many reasons for this, but I would have liked to hear more of Kate’s voice at the end rather than Wilby’s interpretation of Kate.
Overall, however, Rosie Wilby: Nineties Woman is an enthralling story of youthful idealism, both political and personal, and makes for an extremely satisfying night out.