By Danielle Farrow
Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman is worth seeing simply as an unexpected experience. In a small theatre with a predominantly female audience, a male photographer at work on this occasion, women move boldly with blood (real or otherwise) and their often fully shown bodies, exploring menstruation and associated longings, lackings and judgements. The performers hail mostly from what has been termed alt-cabaret, acts illustrating a lecture by Dr C which predominates at first, with personal accounts and a beautiful visit by a very young child (which lit up her mother magnificently) coming in later, before the message of these Menstruants is fully stated for sharing.
There are acts of sword-swallowing, hair-hanging and stage magic trickery. Costumes and movement can be intriguing, sometimes tradition-based, and generally making symbolic use of red, white and blue, without being flag/nation associated. There is nudity, professional performance and natural storytelling, alongside moments with a more amateur feel, a sense of things strung together a bit from community workshops, more than a tightly woven performance piece.
Dr Carnesky (a doctor of theatre) presents the older-style circus-based event with plenty of panache, but there are times when her espoused theories of the mystic, historical and socio-political associations of menses are so steeped in ironic presentation, that one can wonder if the show is actually parodying any idea of menstruation as worth attention.
Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman does, however, wind up offering much for thought about women’s bleeding, cycles of nature and the disturbing disconnection that is very prevalent between societies and the natural world. Menstruation, made mystical and then practically invisible – except, perhaps, as a source for taxes – is indeed a fascinating subject, and it is explored here with showmanship, humour and personal connection, sometimes in exciting ways, and sometimes with a sense of DIY: not a bad thing for a matter that is integral to so many people’s lives, but not quite creating a show as strong in performance as it could be.
In tackling its subject matter head on, though, with no sense of shame – thank goodness – the production is certainly very different from many, even at the Fringe, and one audience member afterwards stated, with great feeling: “Well, I shall certainly never forget my first Fringe show!” All in all, definitely an experience!