Angela Clarke: "I wanted to inspect the advocate"

In 2014, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz became a lightning rod for worldwide anti-rape and women's right protests when she carried the mattress she was assaulted on to classes and lectures. I, along with many of my friends, shared her story and her image across social media, as the mattress protest travelled across the world: it was reported by press in more than thirty countries. Sulkowicz has been one of an increasing number of (mostly) young female activists employing strong visual metaphors to spread their message. Femen, with their crowns of flowers and slogans scrawled across their bare chests, and those who 'bikini-bombed' the recent Protein World 'Beach Body Ready' poster are further examples of the shout-back campaigns that have gathered steam with social-media savvy, fifth-wave feminists.

I've watched with fascination as powerful images and messages have spread from the alternative online blogs and sites to the mainstream traditional print press. But where these uncompromising protests speak to a tech-confident, knowing, politically engaged audience, they are unfamiliar or alienating to more conservative elements of society. And it is here: in the clash between a brave new online world, and the traditional values of the past that I wanted to explore gender in my debut play, The Legacy.

While the Emma Sulkowicz case was unfolding, many of my contemporaries were leaving London to start families. Within a short space of time, I watched people go from independent, urban career women to suburban mums often reliant financially (at least in part) on their partner. Their lives changed quickly. It's not necessarily a question of good or bad, but it's certainly different. I saw friends lose hold of their identity and grapple in the space left for something to hold onto. For some, that hole was filled with Monkey Music, Aquatots, Baby Mozart, and other activities that may have been originally designed to help new mothers and babies socialise, but soon became measurements, goals, and standards to which to conform. Perhaps used to the meritocracy of the workplace, some fell into the trap of being alpha-mums, alpha-families focused only on getting into the right school, living on the right road, driving the right car and going to the right holiday destinations. We all know people who are status-driven, and focused on emblems of affluence. For many, what feels like a distasteful materialism is routed in wanting the best for their children; the best for their family. Is that so terribly bad?

Living in a small commuter town, I'd listen uncomfortably to conversations in baby-filled cafes where woman were titled "so-and-so's mother". Women who were referred to as "used-to-be's", as in "Holly's mum, who used to be a Doctor." Their very identity erased and replaced by that of their child. And I thought: what do these women think of Sulkowicz carrying her mattress round her university? Are they aware of it? Do they care? Can they see the thread that links a female rights activist and them? And I knew I had to smash these two worlds together. Imagine if you took a politically-minded, media-savvy, online viral activist, and dropped them into conservative, status driven, vanilla suburbia? And that's The Legacy, a cynically funny play that explores gender, affluence and shouting back.

Of course there are many other ways to live. Many exceptions to the above. Stay-at-home fathers. Single parents. Working mums. Stay-at-home mums who don't care two hoots about what car they or anyone else drives. But I wanted to unpick the seams of the alpha-mum, I wanted to inspect the advocate. I want to ask questions about socialisation, shouting back, victim-blaming, consent, and how to engage more ‘conservative’ elements of society. I hope to make the audience think. The Legacy is a play about love, money and bleeding-heart liberals.

(C) Angela Clarke, 2015.

 

The Legacy

Loving wife and mother Rebecca is thrilled when her estranged sister Esther shows up for the reading of their late father's will. But free-spirited Esther's very presence soon disrupts Rebecca's dream suburban life; prompting questions neither sister wants to face. Cracks appear. Tempers fray. And the truth about Esther's disappearance a decade ago finally surfaces.

Post Show Q&A, 10th June

Join Guardian and Telegraph journalist Daisy Buchanan, founder of The Vagenda Holly Baxter, and author and Refuge supporter Rowan Coleman in discussing the issues raised in The Legacy, including: socialisation, shouting back, victim-blaming, consent, and how to engage more ‘conservative’ elements of society. Come with questions!

This event is free to anyone who has a ticket for the performance of The Legacy on 10th June. 

The Legacy will be on at The Hope Theatre, Islington, 8th - 13th June. Tickets and further information can be found at www.theHopeTheatre.com. 

 

About the author: Angela read English and European Literature at Essex University, and Advances in Scriptwriting at RADA. Her journalist contributions include: The Guardian, The Independent Magazine, The Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan, and Writing magazine. Her memoir Confessions of a Fashionista (Ebury) is an Amazon Fashion Chart bestseller. Now Magazine described her as a ‘glitzy outsider’. The short drama film Drift, based on her screenplay, is due for release in 2015. Her first novel is due to be published later this year. The Legacy is her debut play.

‘Sharply observed and extremely funny’ - Hello! magazine

‘A hilarious read’ - Take A Break

 

Author's review: 
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