“Santarosa’s design for the space treated its few square metres of floor with brutal efficiency”
Inga at the Calder Bookshop and Theatre is an English-language translation of the original work, published in Russian in 1928 by Anatole Glebov. At its heart, it appears to be asking what it means to exist as an autonomous individual within a system that requires everyone to play a specific part. Set in a Soviet clothing factory at the beginning of Josef Stalin’s first five-year plan, Inga chooses to focus on the issues faced by young women. The shift from the paternalistic, male-dominated structure of pre-Soviet Russia to the hypothetically egalitarian Communist system was far from smooth sailing, and this play captures some angles of this struggle.
In many ways, there is something disconcertingly familiar about it. Perhaps there was a conscious effort in the translation, but some of the lines – “this is what happens when women are given power”, “your job is to stay at home, and look after me” certainly didn’t feel like they were last spoken in 1928. The sexism and abuse piled onto the female characters felt so draining because it’s not yet dead, and taking another look at these issues in social context so far removed from our own was a very interesting process to watch.
Similarly, the play touches in some depth on the double standards that the characters face. Two co-workers entering a relationship and the woman seeing far more consequences than her male counterpart is another situation that we still see plenty of today, and Inga managed to explore this without falling too far into the traps of cliche.
It feels important to add that this theatre space is absolutely tiny, with only a couple of dozen chairs grouped around the stage. Personally, I felt that this added an interesting element of accountability. Essentially, this is a play about individuals choosing where they stand, and justifying it to the people with whom they have to co exist. By having the audience placed so inescapably in the action, we were offered as much of a choice as any of the characters.
Marcio Andrey Santarosa’s design for the space treated its few square metres of floor with brutal efficiency, using only simple lighting techniques to shift it from location to location all the way through. At times, it did feel a little like they were doing too much. With a big cast and a variety of different threads of story running alongside one another, both the stage and plot occasionally felt a little too busy, suggesting that it could have benefited from some streamlining. With that said, the variety of focal points does allow for the situation’s complexities to translate.
This is an interesting adaptation from quite far outside the English speaking, Western canon that tends to dominate our stages, taking a long, hard look at problems that are, perhaps, completely universal.
“This is a one woman show, and quite honestly I can’t see anyone better for the job of carrying it than Alice Pitt-Carter”
It’s always an interesting sign when you’re handed a pair of earplugs when entering a theatre, with the looming promise of “some loud moments”. This was a very sensible idea for a show with a very large drum kit in a very small and isolated space, although I personally couldn’t work out how to only block out the drumming without losing the words that followed and preceded it.
In general, I absolutely loved Lydia Rynne’s debut creation Hear Me Howl. It’s depressingly rare to come across a show that portrays the experience of being a young woman with such minute accuracy. There was something delightfully conspiratorial about taking the moments experienced by virtually all young women in variations of her position: the friends who are also competitors or the uncertainty about when you can reasonably count yourself as an adult, and then talking about them, directly, with an audience also made up primarily of young women.
However, I was left with a sense that this play got caught up in something of a false dichotomy. It’s treated as self evident that the only two options on offer are either a totally staid life involving a baby and a relationship and a job, or touring the country with a band called Finrot. This felt a little forced; surely a middle ground can and does exist between these two, in which personal fulfillment can exist without dropping everything that makes it easier to live and function in society?
The journey that our protagonist goes on – from a not unsuccessful young professional with a flat and a boyfriend that she’s “at least half in love with” to the same girl, now touring the country’s seediest bars with the post punk group she accidentally joined – feels far more reasonable when she tells it. A few incidents of being in the right (or wrong) place and time with the right (or wrong) people, and just about anything can happen.
This is a one woman show, and quite honestly I can’t see anyone better for the job of carrying it than Alice Pitt-Carter. A stage devoid of other people is a lonely place to be, and the powers of storytelling and audience connection that it require are formidable, but she made it seem so easy. Between her space buns, dead albatross t-shirt and slightly hysterical humour, it was genuinely easy to forget that this was a play, written by one woman and performed by another. It felt much closer to a friend telling us what a ridiculous few months she’s had.
What I really loved is that this is essentially, a play about abortion. But it proved that it’s possible to talk about abortion without only talking about grief and pain and fear. The hope and self responsibility are just as important. Here, the abortion is more of an act of reclaiming the self from layers of interpersonal and social pressure. These undercurrents of trying to recover yourself from what everyone else expects you to be run deep in this play, adding up to something seriously impressive.