Gracefool Collective’s This Really Is Too Much comprises four extremely talented young women with incredible energy, delivering complex socio-political gendered subplots through an innovative style of spoken word, physical theatre and dance. But is the show simply preaching to the white, millennial and feminist choir?
Kate Cox, Sofia Edstrand, Rachel Fullegar and Rebecca Holmberg are names to look out for in the future. You could tell as soon as you walk into the Laban Theatre, met by the four women – in matching burgundy sweaters – sitting a little too straight, their eyes following you from the door to your seat. Their expressive faces, physicality and incredible energy carry this show and the audience with it. This Really Is Too Much touches on many aspects of our current socio-political gendered climate and garners an array of reactions as a result.
The show opens with a scene where the four women demonstrate considered confidence twinged with awkward stiffness – women trying to navigate a man’s world by playing by his rules. Actions are precise and measured, stage directions spoken as well as acted to highlight an undercurrent that women have to think carefully about what they say and do. However, when dealing with the considerable pressure of being a woman in that world (which consists of a bikini-clad dance montage to a tune reminiscent of ‘The Pina Colada Song’ and includes props including anti-ageing cream, cleaning supplies, exercise gear and an iceberg lettuce), this ‘composure’ is weakened and eventually broken. A scene two thirds of the way through the show clever captures this – where the same outfits, stage directions and lines as the opening are used but where the actors are distinctly dishevelled. We hear them confuse their lines and muddle their actions. The message is clear: women can’t navigate a man’s world using his rules, as there ‘Really Is Too Much’ pressure.
Each woman loosely plays a specific character: a motivational speaker, an overqualified jobseeker, a 1950s-esque politician and a beauty queen who just wants to talk about her radical ideas for fiscal policy. These characters aren’t thoroughly developed, likely due to the fluid nature of the show jumping from one to the next. However, there are some stand-out moments within their plotlines that make you think about how gender and sexuality are performed and considered within the constraints of the patriarchal world we see every day. Most notably, in a scene set up as employer and interviewee, the binary-based questions on the employer’s clipboard get more absurd – leading the jobseeker to state that she didn’t want to choose between apples and pears and being told: “well, there isn’t a box for that”. This Really Is Too Much here effectives hints at the unacceptability of our bureaucratic state to see gender and/or sexuality as any more than distinct identities and a tick box exercise.
There’s no doubt that Gracefool’s performance is clever and thought-provoking. It’s relatable. However, I have to question whether I found it relatable as a privileged, white, millennial feminist seeing similar women portraying experiences that I have been through myself. Would it have been as approachable to a woman of colour? A disabled woman? A woman who didn’t identify with the feminine ideals of beauty that these women were mocking? This last point stuck with me after the show. The bikini clad dance montages show women with stereotypically ‘beautiful’ body types being seductive as they exercised, primped, cleaned and ate nothing but salad. A parody of the scene later shows the women pulling ‘grotesque’ facial expressions and physical movements as they continued to undertake these activities. However, what if the women we saw weren’t stereotypically ‘beautiful’ in today’s society?
Would we think it was as cute and funny as the women tried to seduce us in their bikinis, would we have laughed as outlandishly later when these same women were ‘trying’ to be ‘ugly’ if these women are ‘ugly’ already according to our pre-established ‘standards’? It’s hard for a beauty queen to talk about fiscal policy when society just wants her to shut up and look pretty. You know what’s also hard? Not being a beautiful woman and trying to talk about fiscal policy in a man’s world.
This is a good show, I’d recommend it. It’s clever, it’s thought-provoking, and at some points it’s downright hilarious. However, did it teach me anything that I didn’t already know as a millennial feminist? I don’t think so. Looking at the audience around me, I had a feeling it didn’t teach them anything particularly new either. So although it ultimately presents the same feminist content that we’ve seen before, This Really Is Too Much delivers it in an intriguing, innovative and – for me at least – relatable new way, with four incredibly talented individuals at its helm.