I Am Woman, Hear Me | Brigitte Freeme

I Am Woman, Hear Me | Review by Georgia McKenzie. Sunday 23 May, at UQ Senate Room. Presented by Brigitte Freeme.

Obsessed with this script; obsessed with this cast; obsessed with this play. Quite possibly the best play I have seen this year!

Being inside UQ’s Senate Room, surrounded by portraits of those who have held the highest honourable position at the University, something is abundantly clear: they are all old white men. There is not a single woman in sight on the walls or plaques of the space. The nauseatingly masculine space is juxtaposed by the music that fills the room; major modern female pop vocalists boom through the chamber, the kind of music you can’t help but bop to: Lady Gaga, Shania Twain, Beyoncé… Then, as the music stops, Grace–played by Emily Crow–abruptly enters the board room, wailing. Over the course of the next hour, as I hear the stories of nine nuanced and relatable women, I am plunged into an emotional roller coaster of laughter, sorrow, empathy, anger, and everything in between. After the show ends, I am left wondering when I can next see this wild ride of a play.

The play tells the story of nine women, mostly through monologue. The script examines the lives of these women and positions them in relation to a courthouse. Grace is a judge who has trouble with the morality of sentencing people to life in prison. Beth (Elizabeth Clarke) is the foreperson of the jury who is certain of the innocence of the accused in a manslaughter trial. Barb (Brigitte Freeme), who is also director, writer, and co-producer of the show) is a guilt-ridden policewoman accused of manslaughter. Dorothy (Kaitlin Evans) is a court administrator who is very sad about the size of her breasts. Caroline (Charlotte Hollett) is a carpenter working at the courthouse who is passionate about carpentry and ballet and has mummy issues. Eleanor (Elizabeth Mahoney, who is also assistant director) works nearby, enjoys making lawyers uncomfortable on her lunch breaks and does everything in her power to give a great life to her two daughters. Pepper (Natalie Ferris, who is also the co-producer) is a hilariously passionate sex ed. teacher who is related to the accused cop. Mary (Rachel Thomas) is a queer forensic scientist that finds penises funny to look at. And lastly, Roxanne (Alexia Swain) is another juror on the case who has been feeling hard-done-by.

Normally I wouldn’t name each actor individually in a script with so many characters; however, I really felt the need to do so in the case of this show. This show had a stellar cast full of talented young women! They were all exceptional and I had such an incredible time watching them own these strong female characters on stage!

Audience members were given the option to sit around the outside of the staged space to be observer or to take a seat at the conference table in the centre of the room. I opted to sit inside the staged space, which I was told would immerse me in the performance. Seated at the table meant that we were part of the jury. However, the only immersive quality was occasionally raising hands in favour of certain decisions. I do feel that more thought could have gone into other immersive qualities, particularly as the performance was advertised as immersive.

The politics of the space played a really important role in my understanding of this piece. As aforementioned, the room itself was an incredibly masculine space. However, the wider implications of the university being a historically masculine space have come to the forefront in the past week. After a story was published by The Australian last week that highlights two cases of female victims of stalking, sexual harassment and sexual assault. The article suggests that, despite the claims, the university hired the alleged perpetrator as a tutor. Therefore, staging a feminist play in a space that is STILL a masculine dominant environment enables engagement with these politics for audiences. I felt that it was a wonderful way to re-invigorate or re-claim this site.

Now I know that some may whine and moan about another feminist piece, but I think that even the anti-feministas will enjoy this one. It is not a lecture, but I still think it is a lesson. A lesson showing that women can be funny and kind, angry, brave, strong, united, sexy, flirty, complex, simple, conservative, radical, emotional and… What I’m trying to say is, the women presented in this script are not cut-copy-paste versions of the perfect woman. They are nuanced and they are extremely varied from each other. They have wildly different interests, work ambitions, attitudes, morals, and experiences. The only criticism I have for the script is that it could be more inclusive of intersectional feminism. There was limited BIPOC representation in the show and no trans or gender queer representation of women. However, from what I understand, the play was scripted with these actresses specifically in mind because they all train together as part of their small acting cohort at Griffith University.

This show is funny and vibrant. It’s run with Anywhere Festival is over; however, I do hope that this show is revived again soon! It would be interesting to see how it would play out in different site-specific locations to explore how the politics of spaces can affect the impact of this piece. It was an emotional roller coaster to witness and experience, and I would highly recommend seeing this show if you get the opportunity!