I’m With Her is conversational in style and delivery, but profound in terms of impact. Inspired by the #metoo movement, this play describes the experiences of eight Australian women in the form of a staged reading. Eight chairs accommodate eight white-clad performers; human canvases onto which audience imaginations can project.
Auslan interpreters accompany the cast as monologues are performed and absorbed with palpable audience reciprocity. Projections are used sparingly to great effect, while the visible presence of scripts solidifies connection between performer and storyteller. Each woman’s scene ends with two juxtaposed photographs; the girl they once were, and the woman they would become. The aesthetic simplicity is powerful, directing focus away from the surface and towards deeper meaning.
Solidarity is implicit throughout the performance, beginning with Nikki Keating (performed by Grace Chow) whose campaign against sexual violence in the hospitality industry is underlined by the disturbing commonality of women being culturally conditioned not to react to sexual assault, but silence is not consent.
In a similar vein, Julie Bates (Lee Sappho), a lobbyist for law reform, speaks of shame and personal power in the context of street-based sex work, where the right to work intersects with the ability to implement boundaries.
Sister Patricia Madigan (Libby Lyons) finds freedom and empowerment as a Catholic nun, despite the church’s resistance to women’s authority. She comments on the way women have been written out of theology, sharing her experiences of how sexism in religion reinforces the erasure and silencing of women.
Again, silence is not consent; a recurring theme which is equally relevant to Pam Burridge (Lucy Griffiths) who quit school to become a pro surfer and was sexually propositioned by a potential sponsor at age 17. Burridge harnesses the revelatory poetics of a wave to reveal the sexism behind Aussie surf culture in the context of her personal journey.
Comedian Andrea Gibbs delivers that iconic line from Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech before ruminating on how Gillard’s past political achievements were marred by minimisation and misogyny. Gibbs-as-Gillard reminds us that intellectually understanding gendered barriers is vastly different from personally experiencing sexism, especially after a lifetime of being sold the lie of equality.
Act Two opens with anthropologist Professor Marcia Langton (Dr. Marion Kickett) emotionally illuminating the failures of the Australian legal system in preventing femicide. She rails against the normalisation of violence against First Nations women and children, too often perpetuated by the justification of men’s rage, allowing past trauma to create fresh pain.
Dr Marion Blackwell AM (performed by Professor Fiona Stanley) speaks of how women must excel to be seen as merely proficient. Using her assumed inability to ‘throw an elephant’, Dr Blackwell illustrates the arbitrary nature of sexism with truth, humour, and reverberations of emotional investment from the audience.
Counterterrorism expert, Dr Anne Aly (Sisonke Msimang), explores a system more worried about men looking bad than women being safe. Dr Aly’s internalised objectification once extended to the acceptance of being treated as property, emphasising the importance of rebelling against the default. She speaks of how, in a country built on patriarchy and racism, unquestioning acceptance can no longer be considered acceptable.
Confronting, humorous, and heart-liftingly hopeful, I’m With Her speaks to all generations, and does not consent to silence. Connecting past to present, dreams to reality, and women with each other, Victoria Midwinter Pitt’s stunning script paints life itself as a radical act of resistance. Intimate and accessible, audience responses to this sold-out show are a clear indication of its cultural, artistic, and political value.
I’m With Her
Subiaco Arts Centre, WA
Writer & Director: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Executive Producers: Half the Sky (Wendy Martin, Deborah May)
Dramaturg: Francesca Smith
Producer: Libby Klysz
Stage Manager: Emily Sky Stokow
Projections: Kristen Kin, Lawrie Silvestrin
Composer: Nicolette Boaz
Sound Design: Glenn Martin
Cast: Sisonke Msimang, Lee Sappho, Grace Chow, Andrea Gibbs, Libby Lyons, Fiona Stanley, Marion Kickett, Lucy Griffiths