In an ideal world, this show wouldn’t need to exist. This is not an ideal world, and so The Roar had to be made. And had to explain itself in both beginning and end. Because people – and I include myself here – fail to see the lack of female representation in theatre, fail to see the inequalities and perhaps have asked at one time or another, “why are you making such a big deal about this?”
The self-consciousness of the show’s opening was most telling. Rebecca Poynton raised the point blatantly: “Here I am. Justifying all of this to you.” That was enough to set up a thread of frustration that ran through the play right to the end.
In an early series of vignettes, the actors formed, broke apart and reformed endless examples of body policing and entitlement over female bodies, offset with humour and satire. Later there was a wonderful scene where Jess Gonsalvez, Rebecca Poynton, Charlotte Salusinszky and Scout Boxall all stood in a square under four spotlights, as though looking in the mirror. All of them pruned and smoothed their faces, trying compulsively to alter their appearances, eventually to the extent that the repetitive motions of wiping, applying and smoothing became grotesque, while snatches of advertising and songs old and new played overhead.
The only weaknesses that I can highlight (if you can call these weaknesses) were the sleepover scene and the internet commentary sequence. The former felt slow to the point, with all the cast getting so caught up in their own separate conversations that we were unable to focus on one speaker – an approach that was realistic, but drew out the scene for too long. The latter, though necessary to show the sea of unmitigated hate that gets unleashed on feminists, could have gone in different directions rather than just repeating the same display of feminism-hating. The scene was very funny, however, with good injections of comedic beats and silence. Sarah Fitzgerald’s male character had me in fits as he tried to philosophise why women were inferior and came up totally short. I also think perhaps the build-up of Gonsalvez’ striptease didn’t achieve its desired effect, given that the audience felt uncomfortable participating, but this didn’t detract from the deep poignancy that the audience collectively felt – I looked around – when it became a silent point about rape culture and how much clothing someone wears.
Bonnie Leigh-Dodd’s raw final monologue was so effective. It tied the problems the show highlighted about theatre with problems more broadly faced by women – catcalling, subordination in boardroom settings, etc. – and gave voice to deep, long-standing frustration with the limited roles offered to women in society. It was this same frustration that made me choke up when all six of the cast began to riverdance with a mixture of sadness and anger and defiance. I saw Bonnie cry and Sarah shake and Scout hold back some wide-eyed sadness and I began to cry myself. It was impossible not to empathise.
As a piece of theatre The Roar was made to engage directly with its immediate Unimelb community. The fact that this production did not need to justify itself – though did, and while doing so, openly asked the audience why it was expected to – made it some of the most considered and immediately relevant theatre that I’ve seen in a long time. For our community, this show is deeply important.
The play was at once an example and challenge for more conscious female consideration and representation in theatre. The production has really come at an opportune time, playing alongside Kate Weston’s Athens Reborn, written by Kim Ho – two feminist, all female shows in one week! – with Fiona Spitzkowsky’s adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew being mounted the following week.
Until Monstrous’ production of The Roar played in the Guild Theatre, Union House, from 8-10 October.
Photography: Bonnie Leigh-Dodds