Simultaneously the most-downloaded and most controversial song of 2013, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines provides the title for a new work that is being staged at the National Theatre’s Shed studio theatre. However, the cast pointedly note they were refused permission to sing the song as part of the piece. It does play the audience into the theatre, and it was coincidentally being played as we grabbed some food before the show, although I’m not sure that Eat on the Southbank appreciated the poetry of this incident.
Inspired by Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion, Blurred Lines is billed as an exploration of contemporary gender politics. Certainly, the statistics from Banyard’s book that appear in the programme make for sobering reading, including the fact that approximately 30,000 women every year get sacked just for being pregnant.
Works like The Equality Illusion, performances (and songs) like Blurred Lines and projects such as Everyday Sexism are exposing the shocking reality of sexism within contemporary society and confronting uncomfortable truths. It is vitally important that works like this are performed in order to address the perceived illusion of equality that pervades current media and culture.
…they are listing casting stereotypes for female roles…
Blurred Lines is realised as a series of vignettes, but the one hour and ten minute running time – with no interval – means that it’s an intense piece of theatre. It begins with the eight women of the cast stating what seem to be facts about themselves, but it becomes evident that they are listing casting stereotypes for female roles – ‘character face’ and ‘wife of…’ for instance.
What followed was an incredibly unsettling scene in which a Crimewatch-style reconstruction of an assault is filmed again and again, with the woman who is attacked losing more clothes and wearing higher heels with each take at the behest of an unseen director. Many issues are tackled in the scenes that follow, including whether working mothers are able to balance home and work: Clare Skinner raises the point that women in World War II dealt with issues like heavy toolboxes by putting them on skateboards, thus finding a more efficient and safe way to move heavy tools and quashing insinuations that they were unable to efficiently do their jobs.
…a challenging theatrical exploration of sexism within contemporary culture…
Music accompanies certain vignettes and gets the audience to listen more carefully to lyrics, as the cast sang songs such as N.E.R.D.’s Lapdance, 1910 Fruitgum Co’s 1, 2, 3 Red Light and Don’t Liberate Me by Tammy Wynette. Catchy, yes, but listening to them in the context of the show and really considering the lyrical content was quite unsettling.
Blurred Lines is a challenging theatrical exploration of sexism within contemporary culture that confronts entrenched representations and perceptions of women in current society. This is an important work that needs to be widely seen, and I hope that it will be revived elsewhere soon.