The Blog

Theatre Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre

The title of the play gives it The Shed is a sharp, punchy look at gender politics in Britain today. It's a bright, exciting production that combines spoken word and music, but its claim to "dissect what it means to be a woman today" is highly questionable.

The title of the play gives it away. Blurred Lines at The Shed is a sharp, punchy look at gender politics in Britain today. It's a bright, exciting production that combines spoken word and music, but its claim to "dissect what it means to be a woman today" is highly questionable.

Set against a stunning set from Bunnie Christie, a large bright white staircase that flashes up in neon colours, the eight women that make up the cast run through the very tightly written series of playlets.

Playing a myriad of characters, all the women on the stage give superb performances. And the direction and writing are both so sharp that the little scenes flow together so seamlessly, like a river, that there's no let-up in the strong pace of the show.

But it's the content of that stream that concerns me. The playlets all reflect the challenges women face in society - the impact of pornography, rape, cheating husbands, discrimination at work, competition from other women, exploitation in the media, sexual objectification in the press...

That these are genuine challenges I do not for one second deny but every single character in this play is a victim. Every single one. Without exception. Not one strong confident female character to be seen or heard at all. That's a pitiful representation of women today and one that not only misrepresents women but ironically perpetuates one of the core issues in the Robin Thicke video that it so rightly claims to admonish.

It's also impossible to overlook the fact that this play was written by a man. That's right. A feminist play written by a man. Actually I think that pretty much sums up the challenge for women today right there.

Admittedly this is a very talented man indeed. Nick Payne was the writer of Constellations, the innovative award-winning play that was widely considered the best show of 2012. But why wasn't a female playwright asked to write this?

If this were a play that proposed to dissect what it means to be a black man but it was written by a white man, or a play that said it would dissect what it means to be a gay man today but was written by a straight one, there'd be uproar. And rightly so.

I mean, just how hard does it have to be for female playwrights? Just to be clear, this isn't about whether men can be feminists. Of course they can. In fact the very success of feminism depends on male support but it's about the appropriation of the subject matter away from women even before they've had a chance to express it for themselves.

But the National has previous in this area. In the wonderful NT50 anniversary show that was televised last November only one show in the production was written by a female playwright. One - Alecky Blythe's brilliant London Road. Stoppard, Bennett, Hare, they all got multiple mentions in one show but women? Just one for the whole gender.

This choice of male writer may have contributed to some of the more questionable political points in the show. At one point, when a mother realises she is being pushed out of her advertising job because of her family commitments, she takes off her high heels and throws them down the staircase to replace them with trainers. Right. So are we to read from this that women who like wearing heels are letting down the side? Oh please.

It's that whole 'good' feminists/'bad' feminists debate.

Lady Gaga's song Do What U Want is sung as a representation of women demeaning themselves for men. Setting aside this misrepresentation of the lyric (when Gaga sings "Do what you want with my body" she's actually gunning at the media for their pointed jabs at the way she presents herself physically) why can't Gaga be sexually promiscuous or, more pointedly, submissive? Why can't women? The inference that women who choose that for themselves somehow let the side down is a nasty message and one that I am not comfortable with at all.

Blurred Lines makes many valid points and is a very though-provoking piece. Women undeniably face real challenges in British society today. But this play does not fully dissect what it is to be a woman today. We are not all victims.

The Shed, National Theatre, London

To February 22, 2014