It’s not often that one sees a play that is political, queer, badass and features a 70 percent female cast where you think, “you know who needs to see this? The boys I went to high school with.”
Photography by Dylan Evans
Well, Lysa and the Freeborn Dames are one of those plays. Claire Christian’s mainstage playwriting debut talks girls, gender politics, protesting and what we should do when we aren’t happy with the way things are. More importantly, it invites people to discuss those issues, including people who don’t often put their hand up to join in on the activist/feminist/gender politics conversation.
Lysa King returns home from university, full of hope and agency from watching the women’s marches across the globe. She decides to stage a protest in her small hometown, sick of the footy boys who can do no wrong, sick of her friends not getting equal pay and sick of the War Weekender — a four-day Rugby League event where the teams oppose each other to win The Girl.
Feminists don’t need to see this show
Looking across the theatre foyer there were lots of people who seemed just like me. I surveyed trendy haircuts, bold makeup and lots of Gorman clothing. As I made my way to my seat I overheard conversations about composting and Jacinda Arden. I sat down, the theatre lights dimmed and the play began. Ninety minutes later I had cried three times. At least.
The play itself is beautiful. The majority of the cast are the Queensland University of Technology Fine Art Acting students, but you’d never have known this was their professional debut. The cast discerningly navigates issues that established artists struggle to comprehend. You’ll scream with laughter one minute and be silenced with shock only moments later. The script is phenomenal, the set is impeccable and the amount of glitter confetti in this show is just right (read: there is tonnes of glitter).
That being said, I recognise I am not actually the demographic for this piece.
The performance I saw preached to the converted, the audience whooped and cheered because they already agreed with the points being made, myself included. However, Feminists don’t need to see this show. LGBTQI+ people don’t need to see this show. The people who truly need to see this play are the people who won’t want to go. The men who see being compared to a woman as an insult, or the men who think “feminist” is a dirty word are the ones who need to see Lysa and the Freeborn Dames.
Simply because one of the most powerful elements in this play is the way in which it addresses toxic masculinity.
Photography by Dylan Evans
Lysa and the Freeborn Dames serves up two very different young male characters. There’s Ken — a police officer whose relationship with masculinity is much healthier in comparison to Grant — someone who probably can’t think of anything worse than being seen as feminine. Grant represents someone many of us will know very well, perhaps the boy that called you a dyke or a bitch or some iteration of those insults in high school.
The majority of Grant’s actions throughout the play are expressed through anger in one form or another. To put it simply, this character is either aggravated or aggravating another character. Ken is a contrast; he’s diplomatic and holds the women in his life in high esteem. But Ken is not perfect himself. He doesn’t call out his mates for misogynistic behaviour despite not participating in the conversation himself. These two young men have a lot to teach other young men. Grant alerts men to how toxic masculinity allows them no emotional outlet and so they “punch walls or women or each other or themselves.” Whereas Ken shows that doing what’s right isn’t easy but simply joining the conversation is a good start. This play shows men how damaging toxic masculinity can be and how important it is to stand with women, not against them.
Boys who see this play will witness a chorus of incredible women sharing their stories, fighting for change and navigating complex relationships. They will see characters like Lysa, Esme and Myra detailing how the actions of young men can actively and damagingly affect young women. They will see the strength that lies within those women. They will see what takes place when young men and women are asked to choose between what is comfortable and what is right.
They will also see parts of themselves mirrored on stage, parts that they both like and don’t like.
But many boys who need to see this play won’t. More specifically, they won’t go and see it of their own accord. This is for a myriad of reasons, including the aspect of toxic masculinity wherein enjoying complex creative work is often seen as more feminine. Ironic, considering the very thing this play dismantles is the very thing that stops young men from going to see it.
If you’re in Brisbane from now until the 11th of August, go and see this play. Go and enjoy this piece of insightful, red-hot Australian magic that Claire Christian and her creative team have created. If you can, bring a boy with you that you think needs to see it, or encourage him to go. They truly, truly need to. If not, talk about the issues with the young men and women in your life. The pearls of wisdom scattered throughout Lysa and the Freeborn Dames deserve to be heard. This play is a bold statement and as Lysa wisely notes during the show – bold statements mean conversation – and conversation means change.