There’s something wrong.
Three women are insouciantly occupied with a measuring tape, a roll of cable and a vacuum cleaner – but there’s a hum to this humdrum. A barely audible background hum that rises and falls. More unnervingly, there’s the rattling of those bodies and props quietly shaking: subtle, small and rhythmic, as though releasing spores of timeless female grievances into the air. I can’t decipher if it’s the sound of a neighbour’s lovemaking – headboard gently knocking on the wall – or some mounting fury that might culminate in a public uprising.
Either way, the sense of voyeurism or discomfort cuts unassumingly yet painfully in Jo Bannon’s We are F*cked, exploring ‘personal, psychological and political penetration’. Bristol-based Bannon, a founder member of the artists’ collective Residence, probes the question with an unobtrusive yet powerful female energy often overlooked in our society. ‘This is what’s happening,’ she seems to say. ‘Are you okay with that?’
Am I? Doubt pricks me, and this feels like the worst violator of all. Periodically, I question my intuitive responses to the action on stage, my confidence becoming weaker as the performers look on with indifference. Should I enjoy watching the tape measure lengthen to a point of climax, before it falls flaccidly over and over; or fear being hurt when a cable reel is swung violently around? Should I snigger at the vacuum cleaner’s passionate love-bites? Recoil from the performers’ piercing screams?
The piece’s crescendo, an ethereal cacophony of women’s tones interrupted by the physical jangling of their throats, is both disarming and disturbing as they attempt to be understood. Until one clear voice rings out loud – peaking, at last, in a way that feels right.