The power of ‘Take Back: Our Girls’ at the Hope Mill Theatre was striking. Organised by the revolutionary Take Back Theatre, the night was described as “an evening of short, urgent script-in-hand pieces written by young women aged 25 and younger.” There was an eclectic 18-piece lineup, characterised by the ‘urgency’ the company strived for, and the diversity of the cast and content. From the start, we were made to feel welcome; people spoke to their neighbours, and the predominantly female cast lined the thrust stage, scripts in hand, giving us a sense of what was to come.
After a brief, warm introduction from the inimitable Julie Hesmondhalgh, the performance began. The show sped on at great pace, with each piece starting immediately after the one before, barely giving us a moment to breathe. This was undoubtedly a positive, as many of the pieces were intended to leave us breathless – whether from emotion or laughter. The perks of script-in-hand work include the avant-garde nature of the acting, and a sense of connection with the audience. We felt not like the recipients of a polished piece, but a part of their foundations, witnesses to the development of these promising writers and performers.
The first piece, ‘The Girls’ Side’, sweetly laid out how ‘boys and girls are equal’ with clarity and a wistful naivety. When it was revealed that the author, Sofia Melovic, was only ‘9 and three-quarters’, there was a warm response. Her optimism and youth framed the evening; even the darkest content never strayed into defeatism. Topics ranged from endometriosis to motherhood, periods to FGM, eating disorders to life as a queer woman. The actors performed their various roles with enthusiasm and zeal.
While it’s impossible to examine each piece, the standouts included Chloe McLaughlin’s ‘Mash’, the story of a teenage mother whose limited options were stolen from her. Performed by McLaughlin herself, the piece was painfully poignant. I greatly enjoyed Rosa Hesmondhalgh’s ‘A Period Drama’, with its multi-role narrative exploring the serious issue of misdiagnosed endometriosis in a way which was both funny and thought-provoking. Zoe Alker’s ‘Number 75’ began as dizzyingly romantic and devolved into an honest, probing exploration of queer female love in public spaces. Other standouts included Zeyana Yussuf’s ‘Najma’, and Connie Hartley’s hilarious ‘Falling to the Communists’- Hartley’s description of a tampon as a euphemistic ‘beaver dam’ produced one of the biggest laughs of the night.
The music of The Amirite Ladies also made an appearance, and included a moment which was rather emblematic of the evening. This was when one of the girl’s guitar strings snapped, there were a few laughs, an eye-roll of two… and they got on with it. Their song ‘All The Girls’ made a reprise at the end, and was catchy and empowering.
You couldn’t help but leave ‘Take Back: Our Girls’ with a smile on your face. The night had the phenomenal effect of making feminism fun, and never preachy. Take Back Theatre managed to discuss the distance women’s rights have to come, while emphasising the limitless nature of female potential and achievement.