Having followed The Polly Clamorous Collective (that is Aurora Richardson, Jamie Bell, Isabelle Woolley and Stefanie Bruckner) for a while at least online I am excited to see them and a first visit to the Camden People’s Theatre also adds a new venue to my audience experience. Its façade and entrance almost vanishes between Euston’s high rise constructions, but it is a warm atmosphere in the foyer with its chalkboards and reasonably priced drink menu. There is nothing pretentious here and I happily donate my change to the fund celebrating the theatre’s 25th birthday. Herstory promises plenty of life stories of women in history of all shades and I am curious to learn who they have picked.
The all-female collective begins its performance on this small stage with an a-cappella song which transports us to the Garden of Eden. Here we learn that every time a woman fakes an orgasm, Lilith grows a grey hair. This is definitely my kind of humour and I love tonight’s music, its beautiful harmonies, sophisticated finesses and very witty lyrics. We hear from Boudicca, annoyed with Tacitus’ retelling of her life, of a sadistic countess from Hungary, of prostitutes fighting for worker rights in London when each king would entertain his mistress in public, of a bicycle killer gang in the Dutch resistance during WW2, of NASA’s hidden numbers and archaeologists denied fame and respect just for being women. Another song by Australian Aurora Richardson is an outcry: One woman per week dies from violation by a partner or male relative in Down Under – and the local and the global media focus on the much rarer occurring death by a shark (statistically one incident a year). We hear details of Sisi’s anorexia and how this affects nowadays women in a very personal and genteel manner and of the dramas in New York City’s mental homes where some immigrants ended up for being alone and not being able to speak English.
This recital by the quartet The Polly Clamorous Collective deserves a bigger stage, a bigger audience and better microphones – because of sharp but heartwarming and funny events like these Sally Rooney’s books are already now defining a generation. Along the guitar, the ukulele and several percussion instruments music is provided also by synths, but the voices are the major channels – for women (like me) annoyed and bored by alpha woman feminism this is an important emphasis on the power of the, well, collective. In just over an hour I heard as many historic facts as if I read a Bill Bryson book, with all those remarkable, fascinating pieces of information they do not teach in school. In my head I am working already on a list of women for a sequel and I line up Anne Théroigne, Lucille Desmoulin and La Maupin. Just saying. I will keep a close eye to what The Polly Clamorous Collective performs next – whatever it is, I do not want to miss it.
Herstory by The Polly Clamourous Collective
**** of 5 stars
Herstory performed this year also at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival