Sirens, Summerhall and Travesti, Pleasance Dome, reviews: 'Feminism is clearly having a moment in the limelight'

Edinburgh Festival 2014: 'Two shows tackle the question of what it's like to be a woman in oddly similar style'

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The Independent Culture

What is it like being a woman? Two shows tackle the question in oddly similar style with a line-up of six performers speaking the words of real women, on everything from moisturiser to being groped. There is just one striking difference.

In Sirens, the performers are actresses, dressed in ball gowns, like soloists at a Prom. In Travesti, they are actors in business suits. But more of that later.

Sirens is the latest theatre piece from the Belgian avant-garde-ists Ontroerend Goed, who have become Fringe staples with their Zeitgeisty plays which confront the audience in a variety of ways. They have driven them around blindfolded in wheelchairs, forced them on a speed date with an actor or filmed them, while voicing their wicked 'inner thoughts', as they sit mutely in the stalls.

Sirens is a more straightforward performance but it opens in typically bold style. The first sound is a prolonged series of yelps, squeaks and shrieks which after a time come together in a harmonious chorus and, eventually, an extended masturbation mime.

In-yer-face indeed, but it's once they start to speak that things get interesting. Cutting from woman to woman they talk about make-up, the celebrities they hate, the things that worry them and the things they want. They tell misogynist jokes and recall incidences of sexual harassment. There is an extended fantasy sequence and a disturbing simulation of a rape.

Sensitively performed by the Belgian cast - diverse in looks and size, but not in ethnicity or age - it develops into a kind of beautiful howl of modern womanhood that echoes long after the cast leaves the stage.

Travesti also uses the testimonies of real 21st-century women but it puts their words into the mouths of six handsome young actors. Why? Are we more likely to pay attention to body image woes and tales of night-bus gropings if they are voiced by males? Of course not, but there is something oddly compelling about listening to a man worrying about his bikini line or how he will get home from the pub on his own, I suppose. It's a lively, well-meaning show.

Feminism is clearly having a moment in the limelight. No bad thing, but it might be an even better thing if no-one felt the need to make plays that generalise and bemoan what it is to be a modern woman in the first place.   

Sirens, to 24 August (0845 874 3001); Travesti to 25 August (0131 556 6550)