Sitting in a freezing car park in South Leeds listening to the action through a pair of headphones is certainly an unusual way to take in theatre but then RashDash have never chosen the easy path.
The Darkest Corners is a world premiere for the Transform festival as RashDash co-directors Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen up their game with a ambitious outdoor production in thet home city looking at the unsettling, often violent world women in this country and round the globe have to deal with on a daily basis.
Greenland and Goalen are the lead artists, and they promise in the opening dialogue that the show is not designed to frighten people, but I can say as the father of two women I was scared stiff by parts of this provocative show. Mainly because every random act of violence, or example of casual misogyny, that happens on this car park actually happened in the real world.
The premise is pretty simple as the audience follow the journey of a young woman – powerfully played by Madeleine Shann - through the dark streets of Leeds as we listen into her deepest fears about the simple act of walking to meet her friends. It’s a fraught journey that take in kerb crawlers, a confrontation with a couple where the man is pressurising his partner into sex, and a cartoony salesman offering the woman a variety of feminised self-defence weapons marketed to women.
Along this grim journey the narrative deftly switches to the experiences of women round the world who face life or death struggles to survive. We meet ‘Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers’ who took her violent revenge on abusers in Mexico, and the all-female Gulabi Gang in their pink saris rising up to challenge violence against women in India.
Music has always been one of the RashDash’s trump cards and their latest batch of clever, funny and sad songs with composer Becky Wilkie are their strongest yet. Greenland and Golden bring their strong voices to bear on a range of styles - backed by a dynamic live band – taking in punk, indie, reggae and even world music as the Gubari Gang demonstrate how they use sticks to defend women.
Movement is also an important part of RashDash’s work and Shann, Jami Quarrell and Reuben Johnson are all inventive freestylers which they need as they switch roles and continents. Special mention should go to sound designers the Ringham Brothers who manage a hugely complex production with superb clarity throughout despite the obvious challenges of the site.
The Darkest Corners does explore some tough issues but it is more than just a depressing tour of misery illustrating a world that forces women to walk home clutching their keys between their fingers in case they are attacked. The piece ends with the company free-styling round the stage all the good things that go on in a women’s head away from those corners where fear lurks, and a chorus urges us all to reclaim the night from the arseholes and abusers.
In many ways RashDash and Transform have been growing together and tonight they both came of age with a bold and challenging work packed full of invention that works on every level. The Darkest Corners might be a site specific work, but in some form it needs to be seen by other audiences because the issues they tackle are universal.
The best theatre should have an impact on the way we think which The Darkest Corners certainly did as on the drive back home, my partner and I discussed the issues raised by the performers. I asked her whether she had ever felt threatened. In response she pulled a hairgrip from her coat pocket, which she’d removed the protective ends from to leave sharp edges. “It might not be enough to hurt someone with” she said, “but it’s enough to scratch someone enough to get a good DNA sample”. Another dark corner brought into the light.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 23rd April 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★★