Three women, a darkened room, and objects of significance hanging from hooks scattered about the ceiling in a mysterious pink light sets the mood on The Gentle Art of Punishment at the Camden People’s Theatre. The Montreal-based interdisciplinary performance collective, Daughter Product, unravel what it means to be a woman growing up in a time where each expectation society places upon us contradicts another. How do we as woman create and maintain relationships? How do we relate to each other as friends, lovers, daughters, and mothers?
This is an incredibly thought-provoking yet relatable piece demonstrating the complexity of women, where one main question is unearthed – how are we supposed to form supportive relationships with other woman, when society presents us as bitchy, catty girls who are only out for themselves? Using extracts from interviews with Drew Barrymore and what appear to be deeply personal stories, Daughter Product seek to join the audience in finding the answers to this question as well as represent the absurdity of today’s expectations on women. While it is a short performance that takes slightly longer than expected to get into the action, there is something deeply profound about sitting in a small dark room with other people you’ve never met, yet feeling a strange sense of comradery with each individual.
Despite this though, each story quite fluidly fell into each other in terms of structure. Beginning with the difficulty of the mother-daughter dynamic and the issue of having to love someone but not liking the person they are, The Gentle Art of Punishment then transitions through to the formation of female friendships depending on your age and physical development, and finally lovers both hetero and homosexual. However, while the main issues of societal expectations, the effects of media on imperishable young minds, and the objectification of women came through quite clearly, the play appears to have only scratched the surface of what is a far-reaching and troubling issue. This could be down to the short length, or attempting to portray too many issues at once – resulting in a lack of depth in certain areas. I acknowledge though that each issue in itself could be a performance and the company can be commended for their efforts in trying to combine them into one piece, but choices like a monotone drone signalling scene transitions interrupted the flow of the piece, meaning ended up more juddery and fragmented than was ultimately necessary.
Overall, the performance is well-thought out and cleverly crafted, and still unleashes some important questions which I’m positive the audience will take home with them to discuss with family and friends – questions which we tend to push to the back of our minds more often than we probably should.