Battersea Arts Centre
This is sort of about Chris Goode and Company and Oxford Playhouse’s Stand at Battersea Arts Centre, but it is also about actually taking a stand.
Stand is a verbatim piece about standing up, being counted and being part of something. It uses the words of 6 anonymous people – some long term activists, some one-off do-gooders, all quietly brilliant – to craft an idea of what it means and how it can feel to stand up for something that matters to you. An older man fights vivisection on Thursday afternoons; another is left jaded following the fight to maintain a protest space; two are climate change campaigners; one is a once-troubled teenager turned local councillor via counsellor for asylum seekers; and the last is a woman whose adopted daughter defended a homeless man on a bus, but where the real miracle is the adoption in the first place. There are successes, failures and outcomes somewhere in between, but there is one thing on which all are certain: no one is in it alone. These are not just their stories.
Stand is gentle, a delicate selection of journeys performed warmly and plainly. Watching it feels like someone is lightly taking your hand and saying ‘Go on.’
On Saturday, I went to the Take Back the Beach demonstration in Hyde Park. It had been popping up in my newsfeed for the week beforehand, and I had a sort of vague idea of maybe going if I felt up to it. The protest was in response to Protein World’s ‘Are you Beach Body Ready?’ adverts and was set up to celebrate all different body types, involving heading down to Hyde Park and having a small party in bikinis.
Seeing Stand didn’t make me go, but it did give me a nudge in that direction. So I went.
I would like to make a difference. Being part of something feels like the start. Or a step towards the start, at least.
Take Back the Beach is not my story. It’s the story of a load of girls who feel affronted by the way women continue to be portrayed in the media, and who decided to half-strip in a public green space and have a lovely day. I don’t even own a swimsuit, but I took my tights off which is a BIG DEAL for me, as a girl who makes every effort to never show flesh that isn’t face or hands. Having my pale legs on display felt like it really, really mattered for me. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but that’s how it feels. That’s a big part of my stand.
There were men and women there in various states of undress, inflatable beach toys and a massive group of brilliant, passionate people. Of particular note were a group of 13 year old girls from their school’s feminist club, who were so aware of the challenges that were going to face them and their bodies in the next few years that just being in the same space as them felt like giving them the power they needed to keep being fucking amazing human beings.
Did it make a difference? Well, Protein World’s sales have had a massive increase in recent weeks. But, the ad cannot appear again in its current form. There’s a group of 13 year old feminists who can go out and face the world with a little bit more support behind them. There’s a group of women and men who spent a day meeting a new people and celebrating the fact that they are all beautiful. It didn’t change the world, but we tried.
And that is what Stand seems to be about. Following what you believe and just having a fucking go. If nothing else, at least Take Back the Beach was part of a conversation about body image. And that’s what Stand, full of words and ideas and optimism, is about too.
“Being part of the conversation is important.”
It is a beautiful piece of programming to surround the election with. In a time when political parties are clamouring for votes, it can feel like your power is limited to a cross on a ballot paper, selecting the lesser of many evils. But you have power if you claim it. You can make a difference, and even little differences can mean something big. Stand is not telling you what is right or wrong, it is asking you if you can just try to right what you think the wrongs are. Be the change you want to see in the world, or at least part of the story.