Anger is an energy — and all around the world, women are being encouraged to harness it.

Just look at international headlines in the past month — The Atlantic explored the "seismic power of women's rage" while NBC declared it's time for women to embrace their rage. Even The Guardian took a fresh look at Roald Dahl's pint-sized and preternaturally gifted book heroine Matilda to "revisit" her in "an age of women's rage."

Meanwhile, Soraya Chemaly's Rage Becomes Her — "anger is a vital instrument, our radar for injustice and a catalyst for change" — is storming up the best-seller lists and has been endorsed by the likes of Gloria Steinem who wrote: "How many women cry when angry because we've held it in for so long? How many discover that anger turned inward is depression? Soraya Chemaly's Rage Becomes Her will be good for women, and for the future of this country. After all, women have a lot to be angry about."

So, where's New Zealand in this zeitgeist?


Theatre-makers Nisha Madhan, Julia Croft and Virginia Frankovich are doing their bit to ensure we're part of the conversation. Among our foremost contemporary feminist theatre-makers, their latest show opens in Auckland this month.

Featuring Madhan, Croft and Bronwyn Ensor, it's described as reclaiming the historic emblem of female rage, the snake-haired Gorgon Medusa. Said to be so horrific that those who gazed upon her face would turn to stone, Medusa was slain by Greek hero Perseus who carried her head around to use as a weapon before presenting it to the Goddess Athena to use on her shield.

If that's the story you expect to see in this Medusa, Madhan and Croft caution you'll be at the wrong show. Theirs is a loud, almost indefinable, theatrical poem which pulls apart the ancient myth as much as it does theatrical structure. Pushing theatrical convention is a way in itself, they say, to challenge the status quo.

"It's not exactly a short story or a play but a visual poem that delves in and uses sound and text and movement and, in that, it's got a lot in common with contemporary dance," says Croft, who's previous feminist works have taken her to festivals around the world.

She points out that in the conventional stories of Medusa it's okay to look at her but the second she looks back, she becomes a danger: "It's like saying as an object, she's safe and that's an outrageous way to think about a woman."

Madhan says stories, the ones which become our shared history, are powerful tools to bring a society together and its people into line.

"But they can also disempower people in very real ways. Medusa represents a complex woman who poses a challenge to the status quo so her story becomes a form of propaganda, a way to make sense of the world. We want to decentralise these ideas."

But does it offer ideas about how to move forward in a world still grappling with the issues making Madhan so mad?

"I never want to tell anyone what they should think — that's what I am pushing against, especially as a woman and a woman of colour who's often told how 'to be' in the world — but when I make work, I want to bring about an opportunity for people to find their own meaning, to think about how stories are given to us."

They may well be onto something. As Medusa opens in Auckland, famed UK contemporary dance organisation Sadler's Wells starts its 20th anniversary celebrations with a production that reflects on what Medusa represents today.

Madhan and Croft aren't surprised she's being celebrated anew, saying there's something gleeful and cathartic in celebrating rage and how it can be used to transform and create new ways of being. They revel in deconstructing a set along with ideas about how women should behave (on stage or otherwise).

"With everything that's been going on in the world with #metoo and Brett Kavanaugh being confirmed as a US Supreme Court judge, it really felt like the only thing I could do was to walk on stage with a sledgehammer," says Madhan. "And it gets quite loud. At Circa Theatre, the bar staff asked about the vibrations because they'd filtered out of the theatre into the bar and knocked a bowl of sauce off a bench…"

A seismic shift to represent what's going on in the world today?

Maybe, they laugh.

What: Medusa
Where & when: Loft at Q Theatre – part of Matchbox 2018 – Wednesday, October 24 – Saturday, November 3