IN WHOREFISH BLOOMERS: THE WAITRESSES’ LAMENT. Written by Sue Pam-Grant and Sheen Stannard. Recreated and directed by Kei-Ella Loewe with Donna Cormack-Thomson and Jamie-Lee Money. At the Alexander Upstairs Theatre.
KAT MANNE reviews
We all tip our waitress… don’t we? Half an hour before the doors to the theatre were opened, I was enjoying a drink delivered within less than a minute of the order placed. I wanted to tip the waitress, but a confusion at the till regarding change (the bartender said they only had large notes) meant she would possibly lose out. I’d worked in service before and realised that the waitress herself might have change on her person, so I asked her directly. She smiled and pulled out some change from the same till that apparently had no small bills in it. So I could leave a tip – but only because we followed it up.
I suppose, you could call it foreshadowing. The feminist cabaret In Whorefish Bloomers: The Waitresses’ Lament, written by Sue Pam-Grant and Sheena Stannard and directed by Kei-Ella Loewe isn’t simply a call to treat your waitress kindly, it is a battle cry in the face of oppression towards women.
A Series of Sexist Events
Soon after we are introduced to the initial setting – two waitresses casually beginning a shift at a restaurant – we are thrust into several different scenes. From bedrooms to a ballet studio, talk shows to public bathroom stalls and school classrooms, the characters address sexual harassment, body dysmorphia and the concept of virginity. Our ideas around feminism are challenged from the minute the waitresses assess what the other is wearing and we soon delve into a world exposing intimate thoughts, situations and the consequences surrounding sexism. The play returns to the restaurant, shedding light on the vulnerability of women in the workplace and the victim-blaming of those who speak out about sexual harassment and discrimination.
Trials and Triggers
We’re taken to an awkward life orientation class where a young girl stands up to the inadequate sex education delivered by their teacher. The monologue inspired laughter by some of the men in the crowd until the young scholar confessed that she didn’t stand up to the oppressed nature of the lesson and instead she accepted that her body was confined to these rules and simply said: “Yes, sir.”
Many moments like these seemed to silence the trolls in the audience, such as a dance scene that would have been considered something ‘hot’ became more disturbing when a waitress conceded to a customer’s harassment and danced with him to get her tip. The male gaze was distorted – instead of ogling two young women dancing to a sultry song, they saw the power of a predator and collectively dreaded what would follow. Another triggering scene involved two ballerinas bragging about the creativity of their sexual gifts to their partners and to what extent they would go to please the men. The competition ended with screeching confessions of how pleased they were to be stabbed and hacked apart. The awkward silence that followed seemed to ground the audience in a reality of sexual violence in a theatrical critique that we really weren’t prepared for. For victims, this could be a very triggering scene. That said, it is rare to hear the victim’s story and without intrusion. Although the ballerinas were gaslighting themselves, we were uncomfortably aware of it.
I wasn’t expecting white feminism but I didn’t fail to notice the jabs at student activism and intersectionality – notably, the only time intersectionality was addressed in any way. One could argue that joking about feminism is the nature of the play; however, many sexist references went through phases of exposure, confrontation and found a resolution in a clear display of consequence or a direct address on the issue. Not once did they return to the word ‘womxn’ after deliberately mispronouncing it as ‘womixin’, leaving it behind as a silly term concocted by bored feminists – or at least, an issue that does deserve more than five seconds in 55 minutes of a play on feminism. It may not seem like a problem to those who have always had a term to describe their gender but for those who are seen as women and are afraid to call themselves anything other than ‘woman’, the ‘x’ stands for acknowledgement in some form.
There are brief moments where it seems that the characters are self-aware, such as the scene where Beth confesses that she’s an activist and then proceeds to make a statement about her privilege at which point she is interrupted by the talk show host who warns against boring the audience. The moment seemed like an ironic example of white feminists monologing but the lack of resolution left a bad taste in my mouth. The topic wasn’t brought up again and I wondered why the character was only silenced so blatantly in a moment when she was addressing intersectionality. I mean, I’m not surprised that the play wasn’t intersectional but it made me wonder why so many subjects on sexism were dissected and yet overlapping oppression still seemed to be a taboo topic for those with voices that are much ‘louder’ than their oppressed counterparts – like the real-life waitress who nearly lost a tip because of her own colleague’s micro-aggression.
In Whorefish Bloomers requires frequent switches in character which Donna Cormack-Thomson and Jamie-Lee Money perform with immense skill. Their dialogue is unwavering and commanding through the snickers of male audience members. Their performances conveyed the nuances of each scene with a careful balance of depth and humour delivered with exquisite timing. The play was truly entertaining, shocking and thought-provoking – and yet it still felt somewhat incomplete.
What: In Whorefish Bloomers: The Waitresses’ Lament
Where and when: Alexander Upstairs Theatre from 17 to 22 July