Beatings, murder, rape. From Shakespeare to Miller, playwrights throughout history have used violence against women on stage as part of their bigger stories. This month, theatres all over the world are showing a whole play devoted to it.
‘Any One Of Us: Words From Prison’ is written by Eve Endler, the American activist and writer best known for ‘The Vagina Monologues’. She formed a writing group with fifteen women in a prison, and the play evolved from a decade’s worth of their narratives. In 1998, Endler founded V-Day (V stands for Victory, Valentine and, unsurprisingly, Vagina), a global movement to stop violence against women. After organising V-Day events in Nottingham last year, Women’s Officer Rosie Tressler joined forces with New Theatre director Fran Rylands to bring this play to Nottingham. The event will have local and global impact: as well as raising awareness about violence against women, 90 percent of the proceeds of the tickets and the customary cupcakes go to the Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre. The rest goes to this year’s spotlight campaign for women and girls in Haiti.
‘Any One Of Us’ is not a play as much as a collection of monologues. Even when the players are on stage together, they rarely interact. In fact, the director was able to send the actors off with their parts to let them prepare it on their own, and she only saw the whole piece together a few times. On a bare stage with just a few chairs and minimal costumes, the actors could let the stories speak for themselves. For the most part, they do this with great sensitivity, though not all parts are equally impressive. The stories are depressing in their similarities, but they do bring to light different aspects of violence against women. There are the familiar abused housewives – ‘If this is love, then please hate me’ – but also the boy who grew up in a family with five raped women – ‘In my household, a penis was seen as a weapon. But I will not be a war machine’. The abuses are sometimes graphically described, and sometimes only hinted at.
The link with prison is not always clear, since the characters seem to have such a range of backgrounds; but towards the end, it becomes obvious how continuous violence can drive women to commit violence themselves. Violence may not legitimise more violence, but it is clear how it always becomes the bigger story in women’s life.
‘Any One of US: Words From Prison’ is showing on March 2 and 3 in the Den. Entrance £4. Proceeds to charity.
D. J. Pardijs