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Review | WITCH by Rebecca Tamás

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In her latest collection, WITCH, Rebecca Tamás explores the triumphs and oppression, the strengths and weaknesses, the power and the fears that generations of women embody.

Released to coincide with the pagan festival of the Spring Equinox, WITCH brings the modern woman into a sacred and safe space where nature, feminism, eroticism and philosophy blur together to kindle our journey to self-discovery.

The tone of the poems are incredibly open, carrying no judgement or rejection, no pity, shame, or guilt; Tamás truly allows for free and radical expression of not just a woman’s pain, but of her dreams, and desires as well.

again somehow the witch finds it is about eating and not eating
they don’t eat and so they are made to eat
she asks a policeman ‘what is with this eating thing?’
but he doesn’t know why just that when a woman eats
she is eating for the state
when she watches her friend forced to lie back and be fed
she retches

— “Witch And The Suffragettes”, p.32

As readers, we initially find ourselves lost in Tamás’ rich and chaotic symbolism, before allowing ourselves to relax and unfold within its strangeness. She carefully constructs her vivid and untamed language away from male supremacy and desire.

Tamás draws on the figure of the witch one of the most fascinating of the feminine archetypes — as both a sensual and philosophical source in the search for autonomy and female independence. Her activation of the witch archetype raises questions as to whether there are aspects of our own personal experiences that we wish to transgress? Borders that we wish to cross?

the witch thinks about what it would be like to
fuck woods and not the government
the stretch of land is green but has redness in the soil
the trees gather around a path from Roman times which
has sunk into the ground an opening flashing and brightening
fucking the trees is giving back the means of production to the trees
xylem and blood vessel outreach tell me how it is when there’s a storm
not that different because we all shake but some don’t
have a shelter it can’t be made romantic branches are entering
different parts of your body

— “Witch Wood”, p.41

Though she is a figure notoriously chewed up by mainstream appropriation, for generations the figure of the witch has raised a necessary and revolutionary rebellion against patriarchal suppression, and its negative presentations of womanhood. The witch is autonomous without fear, relying heavily on the natural world, her intuition, and her connection with the Divine Feminine to heal spiritual, psychological, and physical ailments.

We are all capable of activating this archetype when we take the time to explore our own intuitions, emotions, body, and mind as exemplified in WITCH, and in fact, many of us engage with this part of our psyche whether intending to or not. But as society turned away from the natural world, our attitude shifted. While in ancient societies shamanic figures were a valued part of the community, the figure of the witch, over the centuries, became synonymous with darkness and harm, as a figure that violently taints and seduces male autonomy.

Tamás’ writing crucially rejects the latter rhetoric by redefining witchcraft away from the mainstream fantasy, and reconnecting it with its origin. WITCH is all about a woman reaching her full potential, who explores her power both to destroy and to create. She shows the readers what it’s like to live outside of definition, a character that is both fiercely sexy and pure.

Are you a witch?

Are you

Have you had relations with the devil?

Have you

Have you had relations with the devil and what took place?

  — “Interrogation (1)”, p.17

Tamás’ witch is not a distant, evil and sexualised being but rather a relatively normal, and hugely relatable character. As we are forced to picture the self-expression of the collection’s protagonist with sober eyes, we hold a sensible mirror to our own self-discovery and begin to fully and completely accept ourselves.

the devil always looked at the witch with an expression of compassion which was the same expression she had on her face when she looked at him
but when he talked about freedom he looked painfully quiet
like the kind of person who casts no shadow and the witch wondered if actually
that was because
her face looked like that

  — “Witch and the Devil”, p.30

The most beautiful aspect of Tamás’ poetic collection, is her focus on the female body. The belief that ‘good girls don’t desire and good girls don’t hunger’ is so deeply embedded in the female experience, that the fact that women do hunger and desire creates so much shame and self-loathing that we completely dissociate from our bodies. Women carry on living as fragmented pieces of a whole, making it impossible for us to feel fully and completely human. We start to wonder if we can survive what we worship. But, Tamás channels power back by persistently glorifying the female body and normalising autonomous female sexuality. The poems are significantly sensual, a surge of released visceral energy, that are thoroughly enjoyable and experimental.

Tamás does a wonderful job of creating a space without cohesive structure, a space that makes it easy for us to breakdown unwavering patriarchal confines. The collection is empowering, allowing us to listen to and to love a symbol of our own repressed and exhausted psyche. The fact that the collection reanimates female silence makes WITCH a necessary addition to the bookshelf of women who want more.

Words by Briony Willis.

WITCHby Rebecca Tamás, Penned in the Margins, pp. 119, £9.99. Purchase here.
For more information on Penned in the Margins, visit http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/


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Review | Summer and Smoke at The Duke of York’s Theatre

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Summer and Smoke at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre directed by Rebecca Frecknall - photo credit Marc Brenner.

A poetic vision of human nature and our existential struggle to forge the middle ground between body and soul. After writing his (in)famous A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams gave birth to Summer and Smoke in 1948, and The London Magazine had the pleasure of attending the latest adaptation by director Rebecca Frecknall held at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

Summer and Smoke begins as an unruly exploration on human appetites, specifically focusing on sexual appetites and how suppressed desires can formulate into nervous dispositions.

Patsy Ferran as Alma Winemiller – Photo credit Marc Brenner.

Patsy Ferran did a superb job of embodying William’s Alma Winemiller – a frantic, naive and anxious being plagued by constant panic attacks and a permanently jittery disposition. Unable to understand her primal desires, she is simultaneously traumatised and aroused by even the slightest sexual inclination from her male peers. We come to find that her overly sensitive attitude is rather jarring, wanting her to act out on the primal desires that she fails to acknowledge rather than restricting herself in her need for piety and self-preservation. Though she possesses a humorous undertone, Alma is at large a devastating mirror for women carrying the burden of shame imposed by a rather soulless patriarchal world.

Matthew Needham as John Buchanan – Photo credit Marc Brenner.

Where Alma centres around the soul, William’s John Buchanan represents bodily desires. John is the personification of vibrant male energy turned wild in a stagnant and entrapping society. Matthew Needham‘s performance was powerful enough that the audience actually suffers as we witness John lead a path of selfishness, leaving only devastation and destruction in his wake. He, the archetypal southern man, is completely opposite to the prim and proper archetypal southern woman who is innocent, delicate, devotional and self-sacrificial. Male culture loud and exciting against the sheepishness of domestication. Always judging one another, and yet, the irony is that both are acting out of fear, though it is a fear for completely different things.

“… We operate under the misguided belief that the soul is bodiless, and the body is soulless..”

The two juxtaposing psychologies establish the uneasy link between the body and the soul at the heart of all human experience. We operate under the misguided belief that the soul is bodiless, and the body is soulless. Spirit and flesh against each other. Rather, the two require a co-existence which we do not allow for. Christianity demanding humility and purity where male tradition demands competitiveness and aggressiveness, the two are never given the space to intertwine.

Summer and Smoke at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre – photo credit Marc Brenner.

Summer and Smoke’s second act is centred around metamorphosis, as self-destructive tendencies reach a devastating climax.

The emotional presence of Patsy Ferran playing Alma was pretty outstanding as she shifts from nervous, frantic, and jittery into a deeply melancholic sadness. Loneliness and rejection are at the heart of her metamorphosis, with no stable personality possible in such a hostile and confining environment. We knew that change was going to come as John presented the audience with the idea that alma possesses a trapped doppelgänger at the beginning of the play – the second half is thus our witnessing of the doppelgänger gradually coming into consciousness. Alma becomes defiant against authority, and as cold emotionally, spiritually and verbally as winter, her suppressed desires becoming explicit as she recognizes her own divided nature.

“Tell them I’ve changed, and you’re waiting to see in what way” she exclaims.

Much to our dismay, even though Alma moves past propriety and sets a path towards sensual pleasures, John moves towards tradition and away from bodily pleasures. A fatal passing of two ships at night, it seems fated that John and Alma’s two worlds will never collide.

Frecknall’s dimly-lit and atmospheric pays homage to Williams original intention for a more sentimental than realistic world. Frecknall was experimental with her use of prop, occupying the stage with five beautifully rustic grand pianos that provided the acoustic soundtrack. Though we did not witness the extravagant skies and colour harmonies that Williams stressed for, we experienced a new and innovative touch on a classic that highly paid off. The actors valiantly embodied their roles and offered acute representations of Williams symbolic characters – perhaps the only jarring characterisation was the portrayal of the Mexican characters which felt a little outdated in their drunken misogyny, though Frecknall was staying faithful to Williams whose characterisation is a reflection of his times. Nevertheless, Anjanna Vasan provided a beautifully tantalizing portrayal of they young seductress Rosa Gonzales, a familiar face seen in TV series Black Mirror. The passion of our playwright Tennessee Williams was apparent in the very fibres of this recent adaptation.

Summer and Smoke at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre – photo credit Marc Brenner.

A heart-breaking play, with a powerful symbolic message on human experience; do not miss Rebecca Frecknall’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams highly-acclaimed Summer and Smoke, running until January 19th.

Words by Briony Willis.

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Tennessee Williams Summer and SmokeDirected by Rebecca Frecknall

Duke of York’s Theatre, Saturday 10th  November 2018 – Saturday 19th January 2019

 

 

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Review | Medusa at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

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Rehearsals showing Medusa by Jasmin Vardimon Company @ IAB, Sitges, Barcelona. (Taken 26-07-18) ©Tristram Kenton 07-18 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Through beautifully poetic movements and engaging drama, Jasmin Vardimon has created a unique choreographic voice that enables her to explore deeply controversial social and political discourse. I had the pleasure of attending the opening show for her latest creation Medusa, a highly conceptual performance enriched with deep symbolism and motifs which offer an acute observation of human behaviour. The performance is both a visually stunning art piece with fluid and graceful movements, as well as being a learning experience for audience members as we tapped into our emotional and creative intelligence in order to digest Medusa’s many layers of symbolism. The only shame is that the performance was in theatre for such a short period of time. The quality of choreography, the passion of the dancers, and the standard of sound and light technicians was nothing less than sensational, bringing the myth of Medusa into the modern day.

Few recall the origin story of our feminine archetype, remembering her solely as the monster who turns men to stone. However, this is only one aspect of her narrative. A mortal woman transformed into a mute by jealous and lustful Gods. Vardimon’s Medusa focuses on the creation of the myth, rather than the image of the monster itself. First appearing in Ovid’s 15 book long poem Metamorphoses, Medusa began a beautiful human girl, raped by Poseidon, and subsequently turned into the monster we are all familiar with by the vengeance of the jealous Athena. The performance did not censor the discussion of rape, making it – at times – uncomfortable to watch. Nevertheless, it is a necessary confrontation of the ultimate manifestation of male dominance, which allows us to deepen our understanding of the Medusa archetype.

~ A myth dismissed as the onset of primitive imagination ~

In Jungian psychology, myths arise as a key component to the evolution of the collective consciousness (almost like a shared psychological awareness). Myths allow for healing and understanding of a damaged and suppressed subconscious through physical and verbal enactment. Focusing on the myth of Medusa, there is more depth to the archetype that we often mistake as another cautionary tale surrounding the dangers of female seduction (like that of Eve’s). After experiencing Vardimon’s Medusa, I felt inspired to explore the much deeper nature behind the powerful feminine symbol.

Gaze is a significant aspect of the Medusa archetype. Her ability to turn people to stone signifies the stillness inherent to self-reflection. But, this reflection tends to show us aspects of ourselves that we cannot stand to bear witness to, and so we hide them deep within our psyche. We respond to Medusa’s allusive gaze with fear, a fear that the gaze of our deeply suppressed subconsciousness may destroy us completely. Specifically, Medusa’s creation story stirs discussion around a womans relationship to patriarchal assimilation, becoming the gaze of the abused feminine consciousness. Medusa lurks in the shadows, like women lurk in the shadow of man. Femininity always hidden by the shadow of patriarchy. Vardimon’s Medusa addresses this discourse both indirectly, as the women wear black pantsuits, but it is also directly addressed in the early dialogue of the performance. To paraphrase, ‘We all have a shadow, a woman resides in my shadow – never allowed to be greater than me, the man, who stands tall in the light. Thus, a woman, living in the dark, can never cast a shadow of her own’. The identity of the woman is bound to the existence of the man, always the submissive, always the inferior, always the suppressed.

       Shame,                rejection,                  guilt,                   insignificance,                inferiority,                              fear.

States of being embodied by Medusa.

Not only does Medusa symbolise reflection and stillness but, rather paradoxically, she also represents fluidity and the concept of transformation. She brings awareness that we live in a liquid society, comprised of fluid beings permanently in a state of change and evolution. This can incite fear into a suppressive patriarchal world, labelling Medusa as a deity of death and destruction. But transformation is more complex than simply catastrophe. The snakes on her head suggesting fertility and fruitfulness, as life transcends death. It may help to recall the ancient Ouroboro, an image of the snake eating its own tale, symbolic of eternal self-renewal, and the concept of creation emerging from destruction.

Innocent Victim

Monstrous Creature

Powerful Martyr

Vardimon had the difficulty of creating the multi-layered symbol of Medusa in a clear and concise way, and yet, upon some reflection, I believe her attempt was profitable. As Medusa is a transitory character, performer Patricia Hastewell Puig adopted many guises to articulate her nature. At first, Patricia’s head was wrapped in a thick rope to illustrate entrapment, as well as a sense of inward reflection. As the performance developed, Medusa’s image became more fluid, as dancers used their hands to bring to life the image of the snakes, moving from entrapment to freedom. This transition exaggerated the fluidity and transformative nature of Medusa. A creative play on a classic. Patricia takes the rope once wrapped around her face and coils it around her oppressor Athena, a testimony of human perseverance and growth against the strength of a God. Thus, Vardimon’s direction renders Medusa human once more.

Following the intensity of the performance, we had the pleasure of participating in an intimate and laidback Q&A with the director and dancers themselves, gaining rich insight into the personal motivations behind such beautifully powerful art.

Photography by Tristram Kenton

There is so much more to Medusa than the myth. Director Jasmin Vardimon spoke directly on the social significance of the figure Medusa, which allows the story to be persistently re-told and re-interpreted. Vardimon translates a contemporary understanding onto the face of classical mythology by attempting to deconstruct the modern day misogynistic perception of Medusa – citing the example of Donald Trump referring to Hilary Clinton as Medusa in a derogatory attempt to silence her autonomy. Coming from an understanding of Ovid’s poem, and thus Medusa’s creation story, this both perplexed and inspired Vardimon. Though Vardimon also perceives Medusa, not only as a key archetype in today’s discussion of gender politics, but also understands her nautical connotations which draw upon our current discussions surrounding the environment. In 28 different languages the word medusa translates into ‘Jellyfish’, a creature that has been around 700 million years, the longest surviving on planet earth. In fact, scientists believe jellyfish will be the sole survivor of climate change, as they flourish with the warmer waters. The fluidity of the dance movements incorporated into the performance, with the addition of plastic sheets, beautifully enacted the movement of waves. The gradual devastation of climate change runs alongside Medusa’s transitory narrative, the closing image being one of intoxication – the tragic beauty of both Medusa and Mother Earth, intertwining the two individual tensions of gender and environment. Interestingly, Medusa actually began with Vardimon’s desire to address the problem of climate change and pollution – the myth of Medusa later emerged from a brainstorm with the dancers.

The eight creative dancers come from varying walks of life, with all different kinds of backgrounds including Barcelona, Scotland, Belgium, Croatia, Australia and so on. The combination of unique and individual cultural, political and theatrical perceptions contributed to the power of the poetic piece. The choreography developed as Vardimon would open dialogue with the dancers, bouncing ideas off one another until they create stable foundations to rest their narrative upon. It took a total of three months to perfect the final choreography, showing the hard work and dedication that went into the performance.

Originally Medusa was intended to be an all-female cast, but later saw the addition of male dancers as Vardimon found it difficult to explore all the discussions that Medusa raises. The male characters in the piece do not come across well, rather, predatory, vulgar, and crass. When talking about the difficulty of embodying such antagonising roles, central male dancer Joshua Smith believes that performance art provides safety in exploring and experimenting with such difficult and sensitive social topics. He finds it humbling to be given the opportunity to express his own insight on such important political debates. Joshua offered an interesting interpretation of the piece, as he perceived the robotic movements incorporated into the performance to be a reflection of the increasingly robotic nature of human experience. ‘The ability to connect on a human level is deteriorating, while technological communication expands.’  He then went on to discuss the growing popularity of human-like robotic dolls, debating their possible impact on pre-existing gender tensions. 

The beauty of Medusa is the layering of interpretations and meanings that are built upon the classical Greek myth. The director, the dancers, and the audience members are given the space to explore and understand the significance of the feminine archetype. If Medusa is the representation of perception and reflection—the gaze of another upon us stirring self-consciousness —then to what can the audience relate the most? The feminine rage? The doll-like housewife? The robotic state of being? The primal males? What we connect with most during the performance, our own unique take, reveals the deeply hidden parts of our own psyche. The very heart of Vardimon’s Medusa is not the retelling of a mythological narrative, but rather a poetic deconstruction of a powerful feminine symbol.

Photography by Tristram Kenton

Words by Briony Willis.

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MedusaDirected by Jasmin Vardimon

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Monday 22nd October 2018 – Wednesday 24th October 2018.

 

 

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Review | Burning Woman by Lucy H. Pearce

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Designed to teach, inspire and empower generations of women who suffer from a deep internal burning; Burning Woman is a non-fictional, controversial exploration into how shame and guilt permeates the female identity. A book that gets to the very heart of a universal feminine affliction.

Published in 2016, Lucy H. Pearce’s Burning Woman is one of her seven books which specialise in exploring the field of the feminine. Despite being published just over two years ago, the timeless book remains relevant for generations of women past, present and future. As a writer, Lucy guides women to reconnect and harness their intuitive yet deeply suppressed female power. Her tone fits perfectly with Womancraft Publishing’s overall ethos – to celebrate “paradigm shifting books by women for women”.

Before venturing further into the contents of the book, it would seem an injustice to not speak on the beautiful and captivating cover art by Robin Lea Quinlivan. Titled ‘Waiting to Fly’, the artwork encapsulates the books pivotal theme of lifting oneself from restraints. We witness a rising phoenix, illustrated with vibrant oranges, reds and yellows – perfectly preparing the reader for the novels contents.

Burning Woman is separated into twelve chapters flowing seamlessly into eachother. Without revealing too much; the book begins by defining the Burning Woman archetype, leading to how femininity is scorned and suppressed by patriarchal power, until finally offering insight as to how we can build a positive relationship with our feminine essences. Each chapter concludes with exercises for those who feel inspired, or perhaps experimental, and wish to take their reading experience further. The book is a manual on how to cultivate, nurture and release the innate power in our feminine roots, without it being destructive.

Though the novel centres around femininity, it would be misguided to assume that men are excluded from Burning Woman. Lucy gives space to the male perspective in her third chapter titled ‘The Masculine Dark’, with its subsections ‘The Dark Arts of The Patriarchy’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Shame’. Lucy reminds readers that feminine exists within the masculine, as depicted by the Chinese Ying and Yang, or Carl Jung’s Anima and Animus. The feminine essence innate to men undergoes the same burning from shame and guilt that constitutes a woman’s existence in patriarchy.

As the nature of the book is an investigation into the relationship between feminine power and shame; Lucy draws upon many spiritual and intellectual speakers alongside her own experiences, to give a detailed and thorough perspective. The book offers a comforting community of men and women who challenge patriarchal conventions, including psychoanalyst Carl Jung, Activist Leymah Gbowee, and Author/psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes of Women Who Run with the Wolves. Thus, Burning Woman satisfies our appetite for resistance, which, prior to reading, we may not know we had.

It comes as no surprise that the book received the Nautilus Silver Award in 2017 in the woman’s section, as well as being an Amazon bestseller. Spoken in the first person (sometimes plural for affect), Lucy’s tone is engaging and informal; ironically fiery at times, and extremely stripped back as she delves into the deep and existential topic of the female identity. Though the opening suffers with a somewhat slow and repetitive start, Lucy makes up for this as the narrative quickly builds momentum.

Lucy’s fifth chapter titled ‘The Feminine Dark’ is a particular favourite of mine. With the subsections ‘Initiations into Darkness’, ‘Journeys to the Underworld’, ‘Going Dark’, ‘Womb Space – Feminine Heart of Darkness’, ‘The Unconscious’, and ‘Dreams and Visions’, this chapter gets to the root of female suffering. One of her faster-paced sections, Lucy explores the negative influence of patriarchal attitudes; re-defining our dark selves which we are taught to fear as transformative.

It is difficult to fully articulate the experience of reading Burning Woman. Beautiful words by a beautiful soul; Lucy H. Pearce takes the reader on a journey of unlocking and empowering the hidden and oppressed parts of the female psyche. I like to view the book as a gateway; an introduction into the grand and complex world of the feminine unconscious, and its archetypes. The beginning of the journey to understanding one’s self.

For those who enjoy Lucy’s exploration of the feminine, Burning Woman’s sister book titled Medicine Woman: Reclaiming the Soul of Healing is scheduled to be released this October.

Words by Briony Willis.

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Burning Womanby Lucy H. Pearce

Womancraft Publishing, pp. 240, £10.99. Purchase here.

 

 

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