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handle it @ the imperial

Laura Jackson as Jasmine one of the characters in her one-woman show.
Laura Jackson as Jasmine one of the characters in her one-woman show.

It’s not often that I covet wealth but tonight I wish I had a secret stash . I attended a fundraising night for UN Women. 50% of the takings are going to Beijing +20 which aspires to a world with gender equality. It would be great to have a bit extra to give them. Also, as part of the night, I encountered a writer and performer who rose above her surroundings to present a theatre piece of power and relevance. The sort of artist who could also do with some financial support.

The evening was introduced by Brooke Clark, one of the organizers, who spoke about gender stereotypes in her non-urban childhood environment. Her choices were hairdresser or beauty technician. Her eventual choice was to move to a more inclusive environment in the city. Next was theatre director and playwright, Augusta Supple, who discussed social media’s way of rushing people to judgement. “I like this.” And how young women can be validated quickly for posting gender stereotypical pictures, leaving them with no mechanism to understand feeling shit.

The final speaker was the always mesmerising Tracey Spicer. As a junior reporter she was told it straight … you won’t succeed as a TV journalist because viewers think blondes are dumb. Later told to stick her tits out more and she was too shocked to speak back. She now speaks out loudly and clearly on social justice, women ’s rights, and equal opportunity. Ms Spicer graphically explored the link between incidences of everyday oppression with the cultural and institutionalised harassment in some non-Western societies. “If you attend an event like this, everybody in the room knows what I am talking about”.

This is true, the audience of men and women knew what to expect of an event such as this. What was unexpected was the poor circumstances in which we gathered. Good on the Imperial Hotel for agreeing to stage the event but they did themselves no favours by providing less than appropriate support. No microphone, noisy air-conditioning, no suitable lighting on the speakers and a loud Drag Show in the next bar all competed to, ironically, silence the speakers. Some of the audience were very, and vocally, ticked off.

Then, with little or no technical support, a badly used followspot and some strip lights, Laura Jackson presented her one-woman show HANDLE IT on the tiny stage. If the surroundings phased her, it didn’t show.

The piece has a sexual assault at its heart and we meet the alleged perpetrator right at the beginning. On his phone to a mate while playing video games, James is bragging about last night with a girl called Kelsey. She posed for some topless shots and his other mate got his phone and uploaded them to social media. Here begins the loss of privacy and victim blaming which the play explores. In the next scenes Jackson shows how Kelsey’s sister, a prosecutor and a female police officer and a sexologist responds.

The conceit of the work is clever. Having video between the scenes is a neat way of providing time for a more complete costume and hair change than most single performer shows allow. The graphics move the story along by showing the posts and tweets of the on stage events and the reaction of characters who we don’t meet in person. The characters on stage are always in conversation with an invisible other and that is a very difficult acting challenge. Jackson’s acting is very good and we get them. Her writing is also very good and we understand all the people we meet.

Where text and performance come together is in the penultimate scene. The character is Jane Draper and she is seated on a chair on the apron of the stage in the blinding white spot. The story comes to head and the audience no longer hears the cacophony around. Belief, presence and raw emotion are right there and it’s hard to watch. Harder to pull away. Jackson has risen above the surroundings.

The show was a sell out during the Sydney Fringe and will be travelling to several other cities next year. In its current form it’s a terrific show but the potential is there for it to be more. With a bit more cash to invest in polish, not veneer just some neatening, this show could speak to audiences who need to encounter these themes in this accessible way.

An investment in good quality video projection to showcase the excellent graphics designed by Brandon Wong; more time with director, Janys Hayes in developing the persona of the sister and a bit more Dramaturgical intervention by Catherine Fargher in the prosecutor scene would perfect this passionate and relevant work.

HANDLE IT- A UN WOMAN FUNDRAISER was only for one night but check out Laura Jackson’s site to see where you can see the play.

For more about Handle It -A UN Women Fundraiser, visit http://www.laurajackson.com.au/#handle-it-book-tickets

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