Partly inspired by Emma Watson's UN Speech on feminism, Sep Arate combines contemporary dance, live art and theatre into a hilarious and thought-provoking work.
With Emma Watson’s UN speech about #HeForShe topping 16 million views on YouTube and a recent spate of articles questioning whether Apple took women’s pocket sizes into account when designing the iPhone 6 Plus, gender politics is – even more so than usual – a hot-button issue. Unfortunately, it’s a conversation marred by ignorance and Internet trolls; where quantity trumps quality. Lots of people check out.
That’s why Sep Arate – the surprisingly funny and incisive play by Lydia Zanetti and Val Smith (who features in the cast) – is a subtle work of genius. It’s entertainment with a cause. The hour-long, two-part performance, dubbed a dance theatre double bill, involves an array of flamboyant costumes, contemporary dance, art installations, audience interaction, mime and conventional theatre to explore the validity of gender binaries in today’s world.
Act one focuses on identity – how we shape it and how it shapes us, individually and collectively. We were treated to some excellent mime, with the front-rowers included in the action, and a pretty poi performance also functioning as a mating call. The confusion of the characters as they attempted to form an identity while defining themselves as either male or female was palpable, confronting and frequently hilarious.
The second act, featuring only two characters, was much darker and more X-rated; aptly titled ‘Fuck Me, Fuck You’. The audience was visibly discomfited by extended (simulated) sex scenes which explored the potential for sex and sexual activity to be used as a means of control, exclusion, and oppression.
Zanetti has said she’s a fan of using humour to both reveal prejudices and inspire people to think about and discuss topics they might not otherwise wish to engage with. Sep Arate succeeds on both counts – several jokes/gags start off as just that and morph into something a little more serious, more hard-hitting; before you realise it. The humour is a little uncomfortable at times (“whoops – am I sexist for finding this funny / close-minded for feeling awkward right now?!”) but clearly hits its mark, as the issues raised were heartily discussed at the bar after the show, and, I suspect, on the way home.
What I liked most was how the every day choices we make – the bathroom we walk into, which box we tick under Facebook’s ‘Basic Info’ section – were not presented as straightforward. Emma Watson’s speech was hailed as “game-changing” mainly for asking men to stand by women in the fight for equality – a move which would benefit them as much as the women in their lives. Sep Arate, which explores gender and sexuality from an openly queer perspective, does essentially the same thing. It gets cis-gendered people, or those who feel that their biological sex matches their gender identity, to think about what it’s like for people who don’t. It asks us (thought never in a preachy or even direct way) to stand by the LGBT community, to give our attention to issues that don’t seemingly affect us. That’s no easy feat.