It's only a bloody tampon

Is a tampon soaked in stage blood too shocking for theatre-goers? Gemma Bolwell and Harriet Chandler report

Various Authors, 22 September 2008

Foulisfair Theatre is a three-woman company. We devise original pieces that explore issues from a female perspective. Our current show Daughters is an unsentimental expose of what it can feel like to be a daughter. It presents the idea that girls seek approval from their parents whilst also needing to establish their own identity, which often leads them to acts of rebellion. The result of these acts is often guilt and shame, with the daughter feeling that she has gone "too far".

This week, Foulisfair has been accused of doing exactly that. In a packed auditorium in Dewsbury on Sunday night, our performance was suddenly interrupted by a grey-haired man standing up and shouting: "Absolute filth! You should be ashamed! You want locking up!" Perhaps he was so carried away with the subject matter that he felt the need to enact the role of a reactionary father? That is debatable. Whatever the motivation, his tirade directly preceded an abrupt and forthright exit: perhaps not executed with panache, but certainly with rather a loud bang.

We were being told in no uncertain terms that menstruation should be kept hidden, secret, and definitely out of the public eye

What, you might well ask, had we done on stage to provoke such a reaction? Had we depicted child nudity or gang rape, simulated sexual acts or thrown syringes into the auditorium? No. The heinous crime we had committed was to pull a bloody tampon - a wad of bleached cotton on a string, soaked in stage blood - out of a laundry basket: an everyday object (admittedly not a snotty handkerchief or used condom) covered with implied, but obviously female, bodily fluid.

The actors were shocked by the outburst, but they took a deep breath and continued the show. Only in retrospect did the full gravity of the situation hit us: in a supposedly liberal country in 2008, menstruation can still be a huge taboo. We were being told in no uncertain terms that it should be kept hidden, secret, and definitely out of the public eye. In this day and age, any physical evidence of menstrual blood still conjures up thoughts of shame and "filth".

One audience member left, but another 98 remained. The performers received genuine, warm applause at the end and were praised as they left the building. Should we feel compassion towards an elderly man who is so out of touch with the times? In effect, did we not expose his unreasonable attitudes and behaviour?

I am not proud to say that we have bowed to pressure this time - we have hung our heads as good daughters should for the sake of 'bums on seats'

The controversy, however, does not stop there. Daughters is one of five short plays by women touring West Yorkshire together. After the Dewsbury performance, the producer (a woman) gave us an ultimatum: either take out the offending article or relinquish our involvement in the tour. Other plays feature graphic dialogue about abortion and enactments of stabbing, our minimal women's health product is deemed too risky to
ensure the tour's commercial viability. It really was this simple: no bloody tampon or no show.

It hasn't been an easy decision to make. It is one that we have thought and talked about for days, for hours at a time; one that has threatened to divide us from each other and from ourselves. Through the debate I became increasingly aware of the political and cultural importance of the piece we have created. We have worked hard on all aspects of this show, and would be passing up the opportunity to perform at five further venues if we refused to compromise. I am not proud to say that we have bowed to pressure this time - we have hung our heads as good daughters should for the sake of "bums on seats" - but where the future of Daughters is concerned, the censorship debate is far from over. One thing we now know for certain is that we will never allow Foulisfair's artistic integrity to be compromised in this way again.

The original and uncensored version of Daughters will be performed at the Adelphi on Hunslet Road, Leeds on Sunday 19th October at 7.30PM. The performance lasts approximately 25 minutes and tickets will be charged at £2 on the door to cover costs.

About the author

Various Authors

Gemma Bolwell is an MA graduate of The Workshop Theatre, University of
Leeds, and artistic director of Foulisfair Theatre. Harriet Chandler is a founding member of Foulisfair Theatre.

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