Under My Thumb

CultureClash Theatre consume the audience in Cassiah Joski-Jethi’s gripping political play Under My Thumb. Directed meticulously by James Haddrell, we are locked in a dark, dank and oppressive basement, ‘The Snug’ – Assembly Roxy’s new theatre space – along with six women who have been imprisoned for their crimes against society. After being reduced to a primal state, they are ruthless and rippling with anger at their confinement, desperately clinging onto their belief that they are innocent. The arrival of newbie prisoner Ree sparks off a schism, and their self-constructed society is severely shaken up.

A stunning piece of theatre that stimulates our plight for gender equality, and compels us to question the world we live in.

The audience watch fervently while trapped in the room with these savage creatures witnessing their daily grind of physical training, scrapping, taunting, belittling, and meals of gruel. Snippets of video interviews are projected against the back wall, divulging small details of their crimes against the male citizens of the outside world. Charlotte Green moves menacingly about the cellar as alpha Hattie, strengthening the collective defiance against their captors, training them to endure torture, and disciplining them with further abuse if they dare to question her objective. Serin Ibrahim’s Ree puts all this into question as she tests the waters nervously, before challenging Hattie’s rule by delicately convincing the prisoners one by one that submission is their only chance of re-entering society.

There is a constant intensifying of trepidation as we puzzle the story together, especially with the daunting silent fury of Jessica Aquilina as Nev in the corner of the cell, the audience are anxious throughout. The video interviews provide us with essential information for piecing together the extreme culture of patriarchy these women have been isolated from, but in moments dispel the tension that was previously saturating the room. A relief for some audience members perhaps. There is also brilliant flashes of comedy to relieve the tension, and childlike playfulness to atone for the brutality.

There was not a single weak moment as far as the acting was concerned, each of the actors captivated their listeners and commanded the stage with each of their unique personality, channelling extreme vulnerability and passion – particularly in Cassandra Hercules’ performance as Sam. The stories and personalities of the women portrayed are so familiar and real to us that it invokes genuine emotion from the audience - needless to say I was not the only one crying by the end. Without giving away the entire plot, there is little more I can discuss, though I would like to! Under My Thumb is a stunning piece of theatre that stimulates our plight for gender equality, and compels us to question the world we live in. 

Reviews by Isabella Javor

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The Blurb

In a dystopian present, five women are imprisoned for crimes against society. Brought together by a common enemy and facing indefinite incarceration, their one remaining dignity is their continuing belief in their own innocence. The arrival of yet another prisoner seems no surprise, just another woman brought down by the world outside, but is she all that she seems? Shortlisted for the inaugural RED Women's Theatre Awards in 2016. 'Mesmerising' **** (BroadwayBaby.com). 'Chilling... a brilliant piece' **** (South London Press). 'A masterpiece' (maritimeradio.london). CultureClash Theatre are 'one to keep an eye on' (ThreeWeeks).

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