Event review: Rosie Wilby, Nineties Woman, at the Spread Eagle Theatre

By - Monday 9th March, 2015

Once a feminist? Catherine Pestano laughs and reflects at Rosie Wilby’s one woman comedy show

Photo by Rosie Wilby, used with permission.

Ever come across an old pile of memorabilia that once meant so much to you but now seems so much of its time? At home one Christmas, comedian Rosie Wilby came across some old copies of the feminist newspaper she was involved with as a student, and wondered what became of those other young activists? This has become a sweetly wry reflection in a charming one hour show, at the Spread Eagle Theatre in Katharine Street on Friday 27th February as part of Croydon’s LGBT history month.

The style of this show was comfortable comic storytelling, with recorded music, artefacts and film clips. After finding her stash of Matrix (Greek for ‘womb’) magazines, Rosie decided to track down her former comrades in arms and see what happened next. We meet many of them through recent videoed chats and banter, where the women shared their very diverse recollections of What It Was All About. Without too many spoilers, as this show is worth catching: we started with her song about how dire and lonely it was to go to uni with all its divisions of class, gender, sexuality and subject specialisms – a place where an enemy was easy to spot, a friend less so.

Wilby led us through a gently funny reminiscence of times, good and bad, as a young feminist, coming to terms with her LGBT sexuality, burning with a variety of desires, lusting after sister colleagues, desperate to effect change for the better. The confusions, fears and hopes were well portrayed, with links to wider social issues at times. It was engrossing and enjoyable, and made me reflect on my early zine days and the excitements and mischief-making of student life. The contrast between LGBT rights and women’s rights formed a thought-provoking backdrop to the main adventure.

Egocentric? It was a one woman show about her , er, personal experiences!

The show was well-attended and the venue very pleasant. The audience was wide-ranging in age with many men also, some regulars of the Spread Eagle theatre and some colleagues and friends. After-show chat showed a variety of responses, some of which reflected the very issues touched on in the show, and in some ways showed how far we still have to go in feminist terms.

At the bar, one man said he found it ‘rather egocentric’. Er, hello? It was a one woman show about her personal experiences! Like the Not So Loveliesstorytelling show, the very specificity of the tale held so many elements that were universal and I think that the format really worked for people I spoke to afterwards. Quite a number of the audience had taken part in student news of different kinds, with younger feminists remembering their own different challenges and much happy reminiscing.

Rosie Wilby is one funny woman

Regrettably, even from men who enjoyed the show, there was some male joking about gender and layout issues, reflecting some of the issues raised in the show! One couple noted their surprise that their mum-in-law had punched the air when the audience were invited to declare themselves feminist. So although the feminism was in some ways in the background, it clearly was affecting on a number of fronts.

As a young feminist in the ’80s, I loved the theatre work of Frank Chicken’s founder Kazuko Hokhi which combined mixed media, comedy and thought-provoking, often feminist, reflections. As part of Croydon’s LGBT history month, the title and premise of Rosie Wilby’s Nineties Woman caught my eye as both theme and approach sounded promising. I hoped that maybe she would offer something a little different from the normal alternative fare, much of which I find not very alternative at all. I was not disappointed and Rosie Wilby is one funny woman!

There is the possibility that this material may develop into a longer filmed piece and if I could ask for anything extra it would be to have a little more on how those colleagues see life, feminism and activism nowadays. I really enjoyed Nineties Woman and look forward to seeing some of award-winning Rosie Wilby’s other work, hopefully coming back to Croydon soon.

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano

Catherine Pestano grew up in Sutton (standing for Labour), went to school in Carshalton, and college in Croydon. She loves Croydon, her vibrant home town of 17 years, where she works as a Nordic walking instructor and co-ordinator of community arts for well-being. She has a nostalgic fondness for her Brownie and Girl Guide Handbooks and all things Scouting-related. Campfire singing a speciality!

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