I was really looking forward to seeing this show since it was announced as part of the Performance of the Curious season at the Weston Studio. The title ‘A Dangerous Woman’ immediately conjured thoughts up in my mind of all the different ways women are seen as dangerous in this society. As a woman you can be dangerous just based on what you were wearing, what you said, what career you chose, you can even be dangerous if you dare to use your brain! I have even heard people say ‘Oh you’re wearing that…your asking for trouble; that’s dangerous!’ Wow- what woman really asks for trouble?! Anyway, you see where I’m going with this, women have been labelled dangerous throughout all of the centuries and actress Manjeet Mann was tackling that label head on.
The space at the Weston is really perfect for an intimate kind of show like this and at first when Mann entered the space alone, no big entrance or introduction just a spotlight on her and some lighting around her performance, I was intrigued to see whether she could hold her own. Mann quickly introduces us to her family of six women including herself and weaves in and out of stories ranging from her childhood right up to her life now. Mann unashamedly shows us the many complexities of her family life; this after all is based on Mann’s own personal experiences. We are firstly taken to her life as a teenager and shown an everyday issue she faces. Mann is out with her friends hanging around her local town centre but is on tender hooks just in case an aunty or her parents friends spot her. Imagine that, being out with your friends and worrying you are going to be reported on for just hanging out with your friends. It was insightful and a learning experience in some ways to be introduced to an Asian culture that I only knew small knowledge about and also compare different scenarios with my own and realise how free and easy some things were in comparison.
The real heart of this show is about tradition and the weight of shame we carry around with us ingrained from our childhood experiences. Mann invited us into her world where tradition never dies and where the worry of shame loomed over you like a cloud. Mann introduces us to her boyfriend but has been unable to introduce her family to him for 13 years. They know of him but choose not to enter that part of her life and in turn he is not permitted to enter theirs. At this point of the performance I feel an incredible feeling of sadness and reflected on what that would be like for me. Mann tell us how on the whatsapp group with her sisters they all share holiday snaps of their children and husbands but yet when Mann shares hers she has to omit her boyfriends pictures and make it seem she takes her holiday alone. How terribly heart wrenching that must be to be put in that position to have to feel that you cannot reveal the truth of your life to your own family.
This story is also about the difficulty you can face growing up in a family of sisters and trying to navigating your own path in society. I’m an only child but I have often heard from my Mum the pressure and competition that was displayed when she was growing up with four other sisters. In a world where women already face enough scrutiny from the opposite sex, surely we as women should be allies and not enemies.
Throughout the weaving and movement of the different timelines, the dialogue is at times sometimes lost and difficult to follow through the pace of the piece. The movement between scenes seemed to get lost in translation and I think Director Yael Shavit could have encouraged Mann to use up more of the space and maybe explored ways of interacting with the audience; so not to lose the connection at times when the scene jumped making it hard to follow.
This performance is why I believe we need to hear more of the cultures and worlds we do not know. The fear some of us feel trying to navigate our way in the world and the responsibility we feel to keep up appearances when our soul is being crushed inside, is powerful theatre and for some of us our everyday life. In a world where women are still battling to be heard and taken seriously, A Dangerous Woman is a timely peace that showed courage and strength and encouraged us to step out of comfort zone and live the life we choose instead of what others have chosen for us.