With all the feminist power surging through the city centre at WOW Hull Michelle Dee headed into the Ferens Studio to find her own inner warrior at Blazon’s Icons, a contemporary re-telling of the Amazonian warrior myths.
The term Amazonian warrior conjures up an image of a fiercely proud tribe of buxom fighting women, a bit handy with a spear, probably herding men about, taking them for slaves and that sort of thing. It’s a male fantasy to tame the wild woman and in these kinds of pictures she eventually finds herself bending to the man’s irresistible charms. Thankfully Icons is so very far removed from that male fantasy and can be viewed as a story about the survival of an ideal.
If the tribe deny the male race they are denying part of themselves as they give birth to both female and male offspring. Very early on in the piece, written by Paula B Stanic, co-created with Laura Martin-Simpson and produced by No Ordinary Experience, it is clear how the settlement women regard the birth of a boy child. The girls born to the tribe become the next generation of warriors while the incursions by outsiders mean there is a continual need to build the numbers and replenish those who have fallen in battle. “There’s honour in dying in battle,” the elder says to one who would usurp her if she were not so driven by her faith and prayer.
There are many ways in which to look at this play. It could be viewed as a re-imagining of the kinds of decisions and choices early feminists had to make around allowing men to join their cause and whether segregation can really be a way to fight for the rights of women. It is also about how nurturing can define who you are and the role in which nature has to play. In the four characters there are clearly defined traits; a spiritual leader, a wise and experienced elder, another who relies on her focus and training to survive, while lastly is the young raw talent with an unrelenting desire to prove herself to the others. This dynamic plays out like a family; they are a sisterhood with many different roles to play.
The script is dense and, at times, the switching between time frames can become a little confusing. At the moment Icons is a work in progress, so this very first airing of the show to the public was performed as a rehearsed reading. However, none of the movement or stage presence was lost, the dialogue flowed and the interaction was as it would be otherwise.
The set was simple – four blocks marking the territory and a pile of earth that was manipulated to dramatic effect.
A very different sort of play with complex and often opposing ideas, open to interpretation, subtle yet far reaching, I think one that will linger in the mind, long after having left the theatre. You can’t help but care about these women and the survival of their settlement; their way of life, their beliefs and ultimately their legacy. A struggle and fight that is just as relevant today.
Speaking with director Rachel Bagshaw she explained that one of the challenges in bringing this story to the stage was in finding the right theatrical language. Quoting a line from Icons she said: “It is not about then or them, it’s about now. It has to be about that.”