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Calm Down Dear review at Camden People’s Theatre – ‘a vital, safe space’

Testament (Andy Brooks) in The Privilege Show, part of Camden People's Theatre's Calm Down, Dear festival
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Calm Down, Dear, Camden People’s Theatre’s fourth annual feminist theatre festival, contains everything you never learnt in sex education at school. The festival provides a space for emerging theatremakers to perform works that give the middle finger to the patriarchy.

In her debut solo work, Foreign Body (★★★★), Imogen Butler-Cole chronicles her journey of healing following a sexual assault. Inspired by restorative justice, the show seeks to destigmatise the conversation around sexual violence. Using choreography by Niamh Mckernan, Butler-Cole rolls around the stage under a giant duvet, as it simultaneously suffocates and protects her. Butler-Cole’s movements capture the fragility felt by the invaded body, and the courage needed to forgive the man, or men, who invaded.

On the same evening, this gentle work of physical theatre was juxtaposed with The Privilege Show (★★★★by Testament (real name, Andy Brooks). Employing a mixture of beatboxing and storytelling, this work-in-progress unpicks sexist hiphop lyrics and questions their legitimacy.

As part of a performance suffused with honesty and wit, Testament explains how his newfound understanding of feminism stems from becoming a father. The script skilfully boils down the content of popular tracks today into vague but vile phrases of misogyny.

The warmth Testament exudes contrasts strongly with Olly Hawes, whose show The Absolute Truth About Absolutely Everything (★★★) is laced with unease. At each performance a different female performer (on this occasion, a woman named Charlotte) is required to read Hawes’ script.

The power dynamic created between Hawes – who loiters at the back of the stage throughout – and the female reader is considerably uncomfortable. The discomfort is magnified by the content of the script, which contains explicit pornographic content and detailed descriptions of Hawes’ sexual fantasies.

The format and specifics of the show suggest an absence of empathy, and in places feels outright misogynistic. That said, its deliberate crudeness succeeds in highlighting the sexist language and imagery of pornography.

Within a festival that also showcases strong ensemble work such as Tight Theatre’s exhausting Pussy and dynamic new writing, such as Charlotte Josephine’s Blush, these three one-person shows serve as a reminder of how important individual action is in creating political change.

With Calm Down, Dear, Camden People’s Theatre has given performers a platform to voice their opinions. The festival’s recurrent themes included the prevalence of porn and stereotypical notions of gender – but this year it’s also asking how men can be part of the conversation around feminism.

At the end of The Privilege Show, Testament says, “We’ve got a lot of listening to do.” In the variety of shows programmed and viewpoints considered, Calm Down, Dear allows the audience the opportunity to listen.

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Verdict
A vital, safe space for fierce and probing performances dissecting feminism today
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