Take Back the Hood | Auckland Fringe 2015

As a teenager I was warned against wearing bright red lipstick. You know the colour. Not Rimmel’s deep scarlet or Revlon’s pinky red cherry version but the bright fire truck-slamming-punchy-Trafalgar Square-flames that would light up a room. Needless to say it wasn’t a colour that good girls (whoever they are) were encouraged to wear. Whatever.

But the underlying reason why such a colour was so prohibitive (and even today is still largely associated with promiscuity – unless you’re a Feng Shui expert in which case red is the bomb for your living room to suppress disharmony) – is not because of the ‘colour’ itself but because of the expected repercussions that have been ingrained into our psyche through generations of warped telling and re-telling of fairy tales, amongst other things.

This is the core of Deborah Eve Rea’s gutsy one-woman show Take Back the Hood, which blows the lid of the traditional highly patriarchal version of what happened when a little girl happened to talk to a ‘big bad wolf’. In the fairy tale (if anyone needs reminding) all the characters are incredibly one-dimensional: Red is naïve, rather dim and while her observation skills might be acute she certainly is dependent on the strong manly woodcutter to save the day; poor granny is a quivering mess of preserved jelly and doesn’t get much voice either; and as for the four-legged intruder with old lady impersonator skills, he’s just rotten through and through.

I recall these details because Rea brings a rich multifaceted perspective to her own stifled character, who has had to grow up wearing the badge of the wayward girl, and also showcases an interesting and brave look at the offender, even if it is only for a brief moment. Her main emphasis in this ‘Liberation Edition’ is to strip away the imposed shame and say loud and clear, “What happened to me WAS NOT my fault.”

It’s a courageous message and it’s shared through a medley of music, comedy, dates with Death (she had a crush on him but he lacked the commitment so it didn’t work out), spoken word poetry, digitalised musical accompaniment and a giant wolf mask that comes complete with a deep canine drawl. It’s funny and brave, and the combo together with a bit of Kiwi sass, creates a remarkable show.

The highlight is undoubtedly Rea’s climactic poem that calls for a reclamation of choice, identity and an unashamed proclamation that it IS possible to be in the vanguard and not a victim – even when the services and the institutions around you serve you garbled messages and force you to wade through reams of red (pun intended) tape.

As a whole, however, the show does still need some structural work. Numerous times Rea’s commentary, as powerful and brilliant as it is in short snippets, fails to take one step further and be as radical as she promises. Numerous narratives, her own traumatic event and a re-telling of the fairy tale wander in and out with few segues aside from the crashing chapter announcements. Her own energy seems rather scattered as she attempts to transition between doing promo’s for her own show to quickly switching to performing as Red, adjusting (sometimes without fully doing so) to playing a colourful collection of other personas including other female fairy tale characters. Her song while it has potential doesn’t quite work and after the power of her spoken word poetry comes across as slightly clunky.

Rather than show, Rea occasionally falls into the trap of ‘telling’ too much – and the potential to interrogate and fully expose the ramifications of swaddling generations of young women in ‘happily-ever-after’ cloaks never quite gets the interrogation it deserves. Less tech and brass band supplements are required for this fiery show.

All Deborah Eve Rea really needs is herself and her story. And that’s enough to start a REDolution.

#theatre #redridinghood #fringe