Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Others is a devised piece of work by 3 female performers that examines their encounter with 3 other women from very different backgrounds to themselves – a prisoner, an Iranian woman, and Heather Mills. The company wrote to each of these women and the show is based both on the actual responses to their questions (or in Mills’ case, silence), but perhaps more importantly explores the performers’ own imaginings of what the lives of these ‘other’ women might be like.
Whilst having little linear narrative as such, the piece is a meditation on what otherness is and how we ourselves are also ‘the other’. The production deals with themes of Orientalism, celebrity and criminality through each of the 3 subjects.
Others is a clever, multi-layered performance that tackles identity – specifically female identity, through the lives of three women with very different lives to the performers. Text, gesture and music combine here fluidly in a piece that manages to be both very funny at times whilst also raising some important questions about how others removed from our lives – through culture, prison or celebrity – are perceived.
The Paper Birds interrogate their own perceptions of what otherness is through a riff on an un-named woman rising out of static noise, and this theme is explored more as the two English performers imagine the cliched existence of a repressed Iranian woman Nazeem, whilst the hapless third performer Maryam Hamidi (Iranian herself) tries to correct their appalling Orientalism.
It’s a nicely comic sequence that also labours its point somewhat and at times you want the piece to go further in its own deconstruction. The performance points to its own limitations, but I would have liked to have known more about the two ‘unknown’ women – the Iranian, Nazeem remains enigmatic – ironically still exotically Muslim and Other, whilst the story of Sally is touched upon and verges on sentimentality – woman as victim. I wanted to hear more of their actual words, and of the relationship that existed between the performers and these women – was there any real sense of understanding found here? It’s a question that hangs tantalisingly in the air, but is never really touched upon.
But it’s in the section on Heather Mills where the theatricality of the company really takes flight, where the trio of women imitate and voice Mills’ own words and those of the interviewers in a liturgy of media question and response, imitating her mannerisms off a TV interview, and playing with a suggestion of the old need to demonise women as witches.
It’s this level of playful absurdism that keeps Others from (mostly) feeling too worthy, though it ends with the company reflecting on their own identity in a way that again feels like it could have been taken further. It is only in Maryam Hamidi’s relationship to Nazeem – a woman like her but also not like her (Hamidi having grown up in the UK) – that there’s a hint of the real complexities of cultural identity and how these have to be negotiated. But perhaps this is the point with the two other subjects: Sally in prison and Mills – we cannot reach them, really, and so our imagination fails us. Smart, well-paced and provocative.