Beneath the Skin

We go backstage to understand the enduring importance of Her Naked Skin.

2008 National Theatre ADC theatre cambridge Feminism feminism in theatre Her Naked Skin student productions suffragette movement in theatre

(Photo credits to Johannes Hjorth)

As we get to the end of a year in which Cambridge theatre seems to have tried hard to increase the exposure given to women, even now in the midst of exams, it seems like a good idea to take a step back and explore the nature of the plays themselves.

Maintaining this theme from The Trojan Women last week, Rose Reade is directing a production of Her Naked Skin, written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz.

Initially performed in 2008 at The National Theatre, it is the first play written by a living female playwright to be have been shown at the prestigious venue.

The Tab ventured behind the scenes to get an insight into the significance of  the play and why its message is so relevant to feminism within Cambridge.

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Aoife Kennan, Actress

I play William, a well-to-do lawyer who undergoes a personal dilemma in relation to his wife’s life as a suffragette. It is an interesting part to play because he sympathises with the politics but is unable to relate to his wife’s actions on a personal level. I have male friends who identify as feminists, but sometimes feel excluded from the movement itself, so this was pretty insightful. Throughout the play, Will is torn between his support of womens’ rights and his innate instinct to assert himself as master of the house.

I definitely define myself as a feminist. What I have noticed about this play is that I’ve been able to identify a certain continuity between the issues the suffragettes were faced with and what women still experience today on a daily basis – there are a lot of parallels.

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Kyle Turakhia, Actor

I am not generally a fan of theatre which actively seeks to make the audience uncomfortable. I’ve always seen it as more powerful to imply that horrific things are occurring, without distastefully replicating them onstage. When I was offered the part of Dr Vale, who force-feeds and physically attacks a suffragette in full view, I felt a fair amount of dread. What was the point, I thought, of trying to make the audience feel guilty about an age gone by?

What persuaded me to take the role, however, was the realisation that such brutality certainly hasn’t died. As Mos Def’s chilling protest video shows, inmates of Guantanamo Bay, if on hunger strike, are twice daily force fed by having a tube pushed through their nostril all the way to their stomach. If you have ever experienced the great pain of inhaling even small fragments of food in your nose, you will begin to realise how excruciating such a torturous process must be. It can take up to 2 hours on each occasion.

Rehearsing the scene has certainly been tough. Trying to sympathise with such a disturbing character, who, though apparently intelligent, inflicts such horrific damage on someone so helpless was sickening. But although I’d have liked to walk away from the mere recreation of such evil, I had to recognise that there are people, still, who can’t walk away from the real thing.

Nikita Simpson, KCSU Women’s Officer

I think that the significance of the play is to remind us of how fresh the struggle for suffrage is.

Many women seem to feel apathetic toward feminism, thinking that equality is the status quo. Perhaps this may be so for them, but we have to be aware of the fact that this is not the case for everyone.

I also think that telling stories, particularly through theatre is a very accessible media through which gender equality campaigns can be expressed. This is because it encourages both subjective reflection and allows people to identify with situations alien to them – instead of subscribing to a political campaign they perhaps don’t wholly agree with.

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Rose Reade, Director

What makes this play so important is that many of the themes, despite the fact that its set in 1913, translate with alarming accuracy to society today. Force feeding is still happening in Guantanamo bay, sexual assault continues to go unreported – you only have to look at the statistics concerning this university – and lesbian relationships are rarely presented in the theatre here.

There has been lots of debate in rehearsal about how we go about depicting something as horrific as force feeding, and although it has been an enormous struggle for both myself and the actors, we came to the conclusion that we should make it as realistic and therefore as unsettling as possible.

We decided it wasn’t violence for the sake of violence; by making the audience feel uncomfortable we feel we are tackling the issue and provoking debate and thought. This is the main reason I do theatre, to make people think about things they wouldn’t necessarily have thought before or to make people see things in a new light.

Marco Young, Assistant Director

I suppose the thing that strikes me as really important about this play is that it gives the audience specific, delicate human relationships to relate to in the context of huge political themes that would otherwise risk remaining distant and abstract, so in rehearsals finding the specific interpersonal emotions and dynamics that show how much this activity affects those involved and bringing them out in the characters was crucial.

Her Naked Skin runs at 7.45 PM every day until Saturday at the ADC. Student tickets are £6.