The ‘Who Runs The World’ season is an amazing concept that was programmed in response to Edward Hall, the Artistic Director of The Hampstead Theatre, who wrote a response to an open letter questioning the lack of female playwrights present in the North London Venue’s Autumn Season. I think that this season shows an excellent step in the right direction of championing work by women and putting our stories at the forefront. In the week where a national newspaper has cut ties with arguably the most influential theatre critic of the 21st century, Lyn Gardner, it is important that theatres follow The King’s Heads lead and begins to give women’s voices the platform they deserve.
‘No F*cks Given’ tells the story of Stacy (Phoebe Thomas) who parties night after night with who ever is around, sleeping on a different sofa each night and hiding her loneliness with drink, drugs and a fabricated relationship. Phoebe Thomas is an instantly likeable, intelligent actress who brings Stacy to life with the energy needed for such an intense character and this keeps the show driving forward. Unfortunately the play seems underwritten, like I had seen an early draft rather than the final product. The problem begins with the plays title, it is called ‘No F*cks Given’ but in my opinion it seemed as if the character gave too many f*cks. The blurb then goes on to bill it as ‘An anti-slut shaming heart warming tale of what it’s like to be a fiercely independent woman, drenched in the desire to belong and tarnished by the desperation of being liked,’ which is a direct contradiction to the semantics of the title, and therefore the confusion begins.
Stacy seems very dependant on everyone else in the story from Stella (Velilie Tshabalala) who she stays with most of the week, to the numerous men she sleeps with for drink, drugs or a roof over her head. She is craving to be accepted. Stacy is not having sex with these men because she wants to and if men can do it then why can’t she. She isn’t taking charge as a woman and having sex ‘because it’s her body and she can do what she wants with it’, she’s in control so why not? She is doing it because she is lonely, because she craves their attention. It’s this loneliness, this helplessness that I would have loved to have been explored further.
For me, the whole premise of writing new female characters is so that they are there to facilitate something other than the man. In a season of new writing for women by women I expected something else, something deeper. This play would not pass the Bechdel test as the two women talk about nothing but men. Who she’s slept with, who she wants to sleep with and why her fictitiousboyfriend has not replied to any of her texts. Anti slut shaming does not just mean being loud and proud about having sex, but more than that, women on stage can be and say more than that, why does it have to be this especially as part of this festival of ‘who runs the world’.
A great festival, championing female playwrights, theatre is most certainly evolving. The play has a lot of promise and some really interesting ideas that just need to be fully realised. I would be excited to see it again in the future with some further developments especially around the topic of homelessness and a confused reality. I will definitely be back to see some of the other writing, as the only way to prove to Edward Hall that females write theatre worth watching is by buying the tickets to support them in the first place. Girl Power!