3 January 2015

Sirens at Soho Theatre was strange, stark and sparkling


I was enticed into seeing Sirens as it sounded unusual and outrageous. I love unusual and outrageous can work very well when it is used to shock and provoke rather than to titillate.

I also like Soho Theatre as a venue. The performance spaces are good, if somewhat traditional, and the location is ideal. Being placed in the heart of Soho means that it is easy to combine a trip to the theatre with something else. This time it was a trip to the Liberty Sale and that is why I chose to go to the matinee performance rather than the evening one.

Soho Theatre is a pretty and gentle walk away from Piccadilly Circus, my usual arrival point in Central London. I had allowed time for a light lunch in the safe expectation that I would find a good cafe along the way. My expectations were exceeded with Apostrophe in Brewer Street with its rough modern look (not unlike some of my favourite theatres), art exhibition on the walls and reasonable menu. There were young men in there with beards and laptops. My sort of place.

I had not given up drink for January but I was cutting out the "unnecessary" drinks and as many of those are before and during theatre trips I made the point of this time of arriving at the theatre just in time to collect tickets and join the queue and I avoided the bar. Queueing was an issue, as always, with the keenest people huddling by the door and so blocking it for other people. I was not that far away but kept out of the main routes to avoid inconveniencing others. There I struck up a conversation with a woman who liked the same sort of theatres and shows that I do. That was a pleasant way to pass a few minutes before we were allowed up.

Once released, we proceeded in a reasonably orderly fashion up to the second floor only for me to walk back down again to claim my usual seat in the front row where a dark and bare stage was only interrupted by some music stands and bottles of water.

Sirens started with some singing without words, or noises if you prefer, and continued with a series of short pieces that used speech, signing, a little movement and more noises. The sole connection between them was that they were a view of womanhood and with nothing else to link them they flew past in an almost bewildering way. The changes in styles and moods kept the show interesting at the time but makes it harder for me to recall most of it now, almost two weeks later. However,  there were several notable scenes that have stuck in the memory.

I liked the one where the women talked about the cosmetics they bought and how much they spent on them. This was an interesting side of womanhood that I was aware of but had no real understanding of and it was made humorous too with the young woman in the glamorous purple dress admitting that she bough all her cosmetics from Lidl for not very much money.

Another scene that I could relate to more had a young woman talking about her baby, her fear that its silence meant that it had died and then talking through the consequences.

And so the show continued with a startling mix of topics delivered with intensity and humour, but almost without the confusion and bias of passion.

It was also a fairly negative view of womanhood in that it showed many of the trials and tribulations associated with being a woman but said almost nothing about the joys. For example, there was the expected view of the pain of birth but nothing about the pleasure of being a mother. I did not mind that as the purpose was to balance the almost relentlessly positive view given in the mainstream media and so it did not need to be balanced itself.

Sirens was a difficult show because of the style of presentation as much as the subject matter and it was that difficulty that gave it its edge. It was not comfortable to watch, nor was it meant to be, but it was intelligent, challenging and rewarding.

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