‘If that’s the nature of the law, what’s the law of nature?’

Beasts (Why Girls Shouldn’t Fear The Dark) [Zoo Playground, 23-27 Aug]

Mandi Chivasa explores the myriad issues girls and women have walking alone at night, mixing spoken word with Zimbabwean spirituality and magical realism. Compelling from the moment she set foot in the small theatre, Mandi held the audience in her ‘claws’ throughout. Beasts questions with razor-sharp anger how women take up space in the streets, whether they are predator or prey, and the power dynamics at play in society as a whole which leads to the hypervigilance necessary to walk alone in the dark.

Much of the audience were sadly nodding along with Mandi’s words, especially the need to note down what the ‘creatures’ following women look like, to quicken one’s pace, and resign oneself to unsympathetic police. Through consulting her family and their traditions Mandi finds her totem and herself becomes the ‘predator’, transforming into a lion and exacting her revenge. We can visibly see the process of Mandi coming into her power, realising her new place in the hierarchy, and eventually its drawbacks. The flashbacks to her childhood and the sections of traditional spirit invocation were particularly absorbing and hypnotic.

I was still thinking about the questions Beasts raised long after I left. An essential and powerful performance that demands a wider audience.

*****

Queer Street [TheSpace Triplex]

If the film Notting Hill met a Pride march, Queer Street would be the result. Gee and Zae are struggling with the concept of marriage being rooted in a very heterosexual framework; Rich and Davie are best friends in denial of their real feelings; and Kallie and ‘token cishet [cisgender heterosexual]’ Chad have their dating plans thwarted by a vengeful ex-wife.

The dialogue is snappy and cheeky, which when I went was particularly impressive as the director had to fill in as a main character due to sickness! The audience was mostly LGBTQ+ folk but the jokes mainly landed with the ‘token cishets’ there too. There’s plenty of innuendo to keep you chuckling, though there’s also talk of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, a reminder that while the Queer Street bookshop is a happy and safe place, the world is not always as secure for queer people.

Queer Street was two years in the making, having completed a run in Cambridge; I hope that they’ll consider taking the show on the road in the months to come and make more festivals a little queerer.

****

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