The Women of Sheffield Showcase: A Review

Ahead of International Women’s Day, I took myself to see the Women of Sheffield Showcase at Theatre Deli. The showcase is a production by the Cocoon Collective, made up of three brilliant, beautiful, and witty performances by three local and inspiring women. I had never been to Theatre Deli before and thought this would be a perfect introduction. I was completely blown away by it all and I’m already planning on returning!

Catching my Breath by Clare McManus

Photography: Heather Isobel Photography // @heatherbelphoto

Photography: Heather Isobel Photography // @heatherbelphoto

The opening performance of the evening was ‘an exploration of how health, vulnerability, and perspective develop throughout life’. It began with Clare kneeling over in silence and taking slow heavy breaths. Suddenly, she jumps to life and shows us a bag of sweets and we are taken back to her life as a child.

This is also accompanied by visual aids in the form of photographs and video clips projected in the background. Clare recounted various stories from her childhood, including one when her father had TB and was vaccinated against it. Afterward, she returned to her slow heavy breathing stance, and the storyline moves on.

We are then transported back to her teenage years of boys, smoking, rebellious fashion, and school dances. This performance continued into her life as a young adult in London, listing all the happy memories from that time accompanied with photos and video clips.

However, it went silent again and Clare returned to her heavy slow breathing, while the audience was shown various photographs of a naked woman. The photo shoot is something Clare did for her friend’s Masters project, and Clare starts to question it shouting: “Who are you?” At this point, the performance really started to question identity and looking back on our previous identities from a different perspective.

The piece ended with Clare standing in front of the projected photos, slow and heavy breathing again, and ends stating that there are so many ‘Yous’ left to live, and the photos get smaller and smaller and look as if they are being absorbed into her chest, and it goes dark.

It was the perfect ending to a powerful, funny, and completely relatable piece. I felt as though every single person in the audience could personally identify with her and the story. It was also strangely reassuring in the sense that we never really stop growing and forming our identity, even after our ‘youth’ has ended.

A Princess Could Work by Tommy Bryson

Photography: Heather Isobel Photography // @heatherbelphoto

Photography: Heather Isobel Photography // @heatherbelphoto

The audience instantly knew this was going to be a musical performance, as it began with Tommi sat behind a keyboard and a microphone. A Princess could Work was an exploration of ‘a modern, queer reaction to the Disney Princesses of the early 90s’.

She began by giving context about the wider public discussion on whether transgender people have a place in the world of Disney, debates which were inevitably met by a resounding no. The performance was going to process and explore this idea through our own fairytale and music.

It had the same feel as a typical Disney fairy-tale story, while also being witty and cynical with links to current events. The songs were original and so imaginative and well written, and sung beautifully! It was a hilarious piece of art and had the audience laughing the whole way through.

Transgender issues remained woven through the performance, however, and the comedy of it all never took away from the hard-hitting facts. It was completely moving and inspiring, and included many facts that I was not aware of beforehand.

One fact I could not quite believe was when a trans person is killed, the ‘panic defence’ can still be used in law. It states that; if a person is adequately shocked about the victim being transgender, they can claim they panicked and cannot be held responsible for their actions.

Tommi ended her piece by saying only 1 in 5 people state they know a person identifying as transgender but she could change that, and proceeded to introduce herself to every single person in the audience. It was a beautiful moment.

Tommi’s piece needs to be shown everywhere – schools, colleges, you name it – because people need to be educated on trans issues and for it to be brought into mainstream discussion.

Sophie’s Sale by Mary-Frances Doherty

Photography: Heather Isobel Photography // @heatherbelphoto

Photography: Heather Isobel Photography // @heatherbelphoto

The concluding performance of the showcase posited the question: “With cyber bullying getting increasingly out of control, how far are some girls prepared to go to be ‘popular?”

The performance was cleverly structured as if the character (Chloe) was talking to her YouTube channel, with the audience being able to both see Chloe sat in her room with a laptop, but also projected onto a larger screen.

Chloe introduced herself in her ‘video’ and initially came across as a positive bubbly person. She’s just had her first day at a new school and befriends a girl called Sophie, who she decides is going to be her best friend. The story was told through a series of videos and we see how her friendship with Sophie unfolds for the worse.

Chloe takes a week off school for illness and comes back to Sophie having befriended another girl called Claire. Instantly, you can tell that Chloe is jealous of the friendship but is trying to put on a brave face for the camera. The triggering moment for Chloe is when Sophie is supposed to go visit her one weekend, but Sophie calls to say she’s going away to Italy with Claire, something that Chloe and Sophie were supposed to do together.

The video then becomes very angry. The final scene is the video getting stuck in a loop and Chloe trying to stop the video being played by bashing the projections with an umbrella, and then it all goes silent and dark. We come back to her in a final video, after some months have passed, explaining her absence and how she had gone into a bad place, but had asked for help and was going to counselling and a youth club now.

A very emotional, interactive, and relatable piece that really strikes a chord with what is happening in today’s world of social media. Young people are basing their worth and likeability on how many ‘likes’ or followers they have, especially amongst girls, which has unfortunately given rise to cyber bullying. But this isn’t just about younger generations! I’m sure we have all fallen victim to the traps of social media, including myself, where if a post does not get many likes, then sadly I do also begin to question myself. This performance completely represents how social media has exacerbated issues surrounding likeability and popularity in the modern world.

The Women of Sheffield Showcase was three different women telling us three different stories, but all shared one vital message on identity. We are all individuals with our own identities and personalities and all unique in our ways; but we are also all women. There is a special kind of strength to us, no matter what happens and how many knockbacks we face, we keep going.

By Shahed Ezaydi