Sirens (Edinburgh Fringe)

A bold critique of everyday sexism from Ontroerend Goed

© Rony Wertelaers

Over at the Traverse, Chris Goode is offering a searing, angry critique of the ways in which patriarchy contorts men into uncomfortable poses of masculinity. Just as angrily, Ontroerend Goed take as their latest target the casual, pervasive misogyny that twists women’s lives out of shape, bending them to an impossibly contradictory set of expectations.

The company’s six performers walk onto the stage in evening wear, taking up their places at carefully arranged music stands. The recital they offer us, however, is anything but elegant. With screams, sobs, choruses of anxiety and an astonishing crescendo of sexist jokes, these women exaggerate, subvert and trash misogynistic stereotypes, offering a grim perspective on what it means to be young and female today. These sirens are sounders of alarm more than they are deadly seductresses.

There is an admittedly limited focus to Ontroerend Goed’s investigation of modern feminism, which is constructed around the company members’ own experiences as young, white, European women. But it’s no less powerful for calling out the everyday sexism and abuse that women continue to face, from repulsive so-called "banter" to the constant fear of sexual assault. Sirens is also acute in its observation of the conflicting desires that are routinely encouraged in women, who are constantly told that we can – and must – have it all.

None of it makes for easy viewing. The first few minutes are boldly alienating, kicking off proceedings with one of the most uncomfortable, ear-splitting openings you’re likely to sit through. Ontroerend Goed rarely ease up from this point on, drawing winces, gasps and showers of uneasy laughter from their audience.

But this is theatre that needs to be difficult. Ontroerend Goed have never shied away from provocative gestures, sometimes to the detriment of the work’s other intentions. In this instance, however, their audacity is put to excellent, excoriating use.

Sirens runs at Summerhall until 24 August.