‘Conquest’, the debut production from female-led Pear Shaped Theatre, is a subversive and delightfully NOT straight-faced-and-deadly-serious take on what it is to be a young woman and a feminist. Writer Katie Carden has stuck the difficult balance between tough-talking and comedy, with… Cupcakes. Literally. She’s pelted that boundary with cupcakes. But don’t be fooled into thinking this production is all sweetness and light...
In Boots, nervously waiting for the morning after pill (and accompanying lecture), Alice does not expect to be confronted with Jo, who interrupts her crying to talk consent. Jo is a self professed “radical feminist”, and Alice’s crying (in public no less) does not sit well with her. Impressed by Jo’s stance, Alice is introduced to Jo’s world of ‘Conquest’, the ‘Revenge Cupcake’ company which delivers unpleasant surprises to the men who have harassed, assaulted or done worse to the women who request its services. Alice is forced to consider her own position on exacting revenge whilst Jo, in turn, must come face-to-face with her own “radical” stance as they face down with men, and ultimately the establishment.
‘Feminist…’ is an unavoidable word in today’s society, and one we are all (regardless of gender) expected to have a stance on. It is inevitably loaded with preconceptions, and can therefore be a challenging area to make theatre about. The performances of Colette Eaton and Lucy Walker-Evans, who with the aid of some plastic chairs play the whole Conquest collective of wronged women as well as Alice and Jo, show us feminists come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to stomp around in DMs, hate men, slip the patriarchy into every conversation or read dozens of gender studies books to be considered a feminist. Conquest highlights the tendency some woman have to pick on each other over such considerations, to lose sight of the bigger picture. Is sticking together more important than being in agreement? Is revenge really sweet? Is it ok to fat shame a cat? There are just some of the big issues the Conquest company must get to grips with. You may well recognise women you know in these instances, all hilariously realised by Eaton and Walker-Evans in varying regional accents. it is illuminating and quite touching to see how they fall apart and find their way back together.
Carden’s writing is at it’s strongest when it is searching, questioning. Audiences have had enough of being preached to and Conquest is firmly a conversation, not a lecture. “I don’t know what I think” Alice confesses to Jo at once point. “You don’t think”, Jo quips back, “No” Alice responds firmly, and we are at once aware it is not at all the same thing. It also isn’t all one sided, and Jo as well as Alice must consider her stance: “I’ve turned you into a monster!” Jo squeals in alarm. it’s left to the audience to decide if, and when, they’ve gone too far.
It’s left to the audience to decide if, and when, they’ve gone too far.
Although the conversational elements are strong, they are limited in where they can go. It is not really possible to dig deep into the seriousness of consent with the sole male character ‘Dave’, an elusive stock-character, spoken only for by the women. Whilst I understand the desire (and need) to create female only theatre, and it’s posters are deservedly stamped with a sticker declaring they passed the Bechdel Test (at least two women talking about something other than a man) their choice means there isn’t a clear offset to their searching questions and micro debates. I feel like developing Dave’s voice is something that could help further the very interesting places they do start to go, with regards to the issue of consent in particular.
Girls are not all sugar and sprinkles…
Through the medium of cupcakes, Conquest shows us girls are not all sugar and sprinkles, but then boys are not all bite.
Image credit: Pear Shaped