Review – SHE(ME): Reclaiming Shame

Brighton Fringe (Online)

31/06/21

At one point in SHE(ME): Reclaiming Shame, one of the performers describes shame as something that “grew like ivy up on an old castle wall.” An apt simile for something that has such deep roots and far-reaching effects on our society. As the vines wind their way across the wall, it becomes more and more difficult to remove them, or even to see their starting point – so too does shame wind its way across our lives and confuse our understanding of where it begins and how to rid ourselves of it.

As the first of the show’s vignettes wittily demonstrates, this proliferation of shame is a problem that particularly affects women. In a hysterical parody of online beauty tutorials, Georgia Rona takes the audience through her ‘effortless’ beauty regimen, highlighting the beauty industry’s reliance on the continued shaming of women for how they look naturally.

Created through 10 hours of online rehearsal between the 6 cast members and director Shea Donovan, the sketches and vignettes that follow are a mixture of comic and harrowing, revealing the many ways in which shame permeates through life. Some land more successfully than others – a strong ensemble dance with tape measures and a satirical period product advert stand out – while some feel underdeveloped. Some images are repeated (such as a sanitary towel worn across the eyes), confusing their meaning within the work, and there are movement sections where the pacing feels drawn out and worn thin. Matching this unevenness, the sound quality of the recording varies considerably, which left me with one hand on the remote control throughout, ready to adjust the volume as each new vignette began.  

However, considering the short rehearsal period, and the challenges of distance the creators worked with, the piece overall is an engaging and successful work. SHE(ME):Reclaiming Shame is a show that tackles a lot in its short 45minute run time, and does so with passion, verve and confidence.

SHE(ME): Reclaiming Shame is available to watch as part of Brighton Fringe Festival until 27th June 2021.

Review – The University of Wonder and Imagination

Two men standing beside a flight case marked Cahoots NI, surrounded by frames and lighting bars. The man in the foreground holds a sign saying "The University of Wonder and Imagination."
Cahoots Artistic Director Paul McEneaney with actor Hugh W Brown launching the new Cahoots show University of Wonder & Imagination. Photo by Francine Montgomery.

“Wonder can always exist if we use our imagination” 

Wise words from Professor Bamberg (Sean Kearns), and with this production Cahoots NI prove that they have imagination in spades. The University of Wonder and Imagination is not streamed theatre, or theatre transferred to Zoom, it is a new, pandemic-born creature – Zoom Theatre. The company is not making theatre despite having to use Zoom, it is making theatre for Zoom. With innovation aplenty, The University of Wonder and Imagination transports its audience from their homes into a wonderland of treats, tricks and fun.

Entering the “telecomology” device, the audience is brought to visit a handful of the Professors in the warren of the University. After a visit to the Professor of Probability (Lata Sharma), the audience chooses what professors to visit and are off into on an interactive journey of wonder and imagination. From “mathemagic” with Professor Carmo, played by magician Caolan McBride, to songs about space with Professor Lola Hurst (Philippa O’Hara), and painting marvels in the art department with Professor Hoffman (Hugh W. Brown), there is something to delight everyone.

The entire cast appears as comfortable on Zoom as they would be on stage; interacting with the audience members, navigating green-screen sets, and deftly handling transitions between virtual spaces. Though the audience are on their sofas at home, the cast draws them fully into the world of the show, using every virtual trick and tool available to them.

Director Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney has taken the limitations of pandemic theatre and turned them into possibilities, creating an innovative, exciting and engaging work for young audiences. The University of Wonder and Imagination certainly lives up to its name.

The University of Wonder and Imagination runs at the Belfast International Arts Festival from Thursday 22 October to Sunday 25 October and Thursday 29 October – Sunday 1 November. It is recommended for ages 7+.