You’ve probably seen showgirls, stunt men, and of course, The Greatest Showman… but have you ever stopped to think about where all the Showwomen are? They’ve certainly always been there, but too often they’ve also been infantilised, exoticised, eroticised, sidelined, and othered. Showwomen leads them - past and present - centrestage, into the spotlight and into their own power.
Formidable, feminist, satirical, and spectacular
Four women present dual stories: their own alongside the story of a showwoman from the archives. We learn about Koringa, a Black-Asian presenting ‘fakir’, who apparently charmed crocodiles and was impervious to pain, and we also learn about daredevil, sharpshooter Marjorie Dare, who carried on the family stunt tradition, even though it took the life of her grandfather. We get to hear about LuLu Adams, the clown who never let the show down, and Miss La La, a mixed race Black woman immortalised in action by Degas.
The performers on stage draw parallels between these women’s tales and their own: they too have felt the dark side of needing the show to always go on, desiring danger, or leaning into cultural colonial eroticism. But what begins as mini lectures interspersed with rapid fire acts builds into a frenzied boundary breaking spectacle.
Fire and whip artist Lucifire completely entrances with her whip lashing skills, each crack sending shivers down the audience’s spines. Sword performer Livia Kojo Alour belts out a song that fizzles with energy: a celebration of her life, and the power of saying no. Clown and chief researcher Marisa Carnesky openly admits she’ll leave the dangerous stuff to others, but ties the show together with moments of levity and reflection. Fancy Chance’s hair hanging is performed with such delicacy and grace, it becomes transcendental; it is as if she is a swan in human form, performing ballet in mid air.
Their acts may often appear to be otherworldly in their extremes, but they aren’t magical illusions. There’s no trickery, no CGI, no special effects. Their achievements are born out of practice, dedication, and bravery.
Occasionally the transitions seemed a little clunky, and the sightlines of the stage meant that backstage action could sometimes be glimpsed. However, the lighting design was extremely atmospheric; mixed with haze, many moments looked as if they were brought to life by cinematopher Roger Deakins.
There’s no doubting that these women love to perform. It may be a complex, unconventional life, made more difficult by racism, sexism, and societal fear of the unusual and strange. However, they seem to have found power within their talents, and they dominate the stage with assured confidence in themselves as artists. They will astonish, shock, and amaze you. But they’ll also make you think, make you feel, and make you pay attention.
Formidable, feminist, satirical, and spectacular, this is a show which appreciates the corporeal and spiritual in tandem.