Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Article 11’s Tara Beagan’s powerful monologue gives voice to the thousands of indigenous Canadian women who are missing or disappeared. Powerful and angry, Cherish V Brown, gives a towering performance.
This year, Reclaiming Power and Place, a report by the National Inquiry into Murdering and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls concluded that three decades of missing and murdered Indigenous women amounted to a “Canadian genocide”. Deer Woman, part of the Canada Hub season at Summerhall, in looking at one of these missing women provides a picture of the lives of Canada’s indigenous women and how they can disappear in plain sight.
Cherish V Brown is an imposing woman. She strides onto the stage and places her phone on a tripod facing her. “What I’m going to do is illegal,” she tells us, and what transpires before us will be her confession. Her face and every movement now projected onto the screens behind us, she sits wide legged on a cooler box and proceeds to tell us her story.
She starts by owning her story; she is angry at the sentimental white reaction to a show she’s seen in Vancouver about disappeared women by a non-indigenous author and how it appropriates a story so central to the native Canadian experience. From there Cherish talks of her family and her childhood, a childhood living in a trailer: of barricading her bedroom door against her mother’s boyfriend, of abusive experiences at home and on a fairground ride, of her mother leaving with no further contact. And then of living with her father and learning to hunt deer. Above all, as the story unfolds and Cherish is introduced to a world where abuse is endemic, she learns to protect her younger sister, Hammie, as far as she can. But no matter how much you toughen up, sometimes you can’t protect the ones you love.
Imagery of deer have been playing out on the screens since we arrived, initially fawns tottering around in the infra red glow moving on to images of Cherish herself combined with deer and the undergrowth. The innocence of the deer is juxtaposed with that of the girls whose innocence is unsustainable in a brutal and misogynistic world. Having learnt how to hunt with Cherish’s father, they become the hunted themselves. Until ultimately Cherish’s response is to toughen up and become the hunter: “Can you see my antlers?” Cherish asks us. We can but we can still see the vulnerability.
Tara Beagan’s narrative owns and gives voice to the experience of the disappeared indigenous Canadian women. Apart from a few times where Cherish V Brown stumbled over her words this is a consummate piece of storytelling and a towering performance. This is a rightfully angry but contained production and one that gives voice to a story that needs to be more widely heard.
The ending jars – a shocking act of violence is graphically depicted on stage that doesn’t sit easily with the storytelling approach that has characterised the show up to now. There are reasons why so often violence happens off stage in theatre; there are reasons this doesn’t feel right, and yet… It does linger on in the mind; it does force the question about how an act of violence on stage can arouse so much shock and revulsion when the disappearances of tens of thousands of women pass seemingly unremarked and unnoticed.