Cherish Violet Blood in DEER WOMAN. Photo credit Prudence Upton

Seeing as much independent theatre as I do, I often encounter the rage of all women balled into a tight little fist and raised above head height.  Wrathfully expleted over 90 minutes, DEER WOMAN is the female fury, sudden or protracted, that all women feel at sometime in their lives.

But this morning’s distance gives pause.  What… what… if genders were swapped?  What would we feel?  Would we allow? We sit and are horrified as the themes and events creep into view, as the story the protagonist weaves becomes whole cloth.  Personally confronted, I reeled blinking into the heat with conflicting emotions and a conflict of intellectual response.  And a need to reach out to my best friend, my female best friend.

Any prospective audience is advised to take the trigger warnings about DEER WOMAN seriously as more than one woman left the performance which I attended and one young woman was still sobbing while waiting for her boyfriend outside.   So why attend?

DEER WOMAN is brilliantly affecting.  Complex scripting, excellent delivery and themes which need real, truthful and confronting expression.  Force is needed to drive home the need for judicial and legal responses … before women take it into their own powerful hands.

Cherish Violet Blood is a proud Blackfoot and her performance is nuanced and personal.  The play gives us a woman who bears the weight of a disgraceful, ongoing crime against First Nations women and girls in Canada.  The disappearance, murder and rape of these people is coming more and more to public perception through collective action and the rise in true crime/ unsolved case podcasts.

As the text illustrates early in DEER WOMAN, these crimes resonate generationally.  (Playwright and Producer: Tara Beagan) The woman before us casually mentions it in almost every context as we meet women of her acquaintance.  She is making a video j’accuse and, as something illegal has gone on under her hand, it is a document for us.  It is sure to be played in court and snippets snipped for media bites.

She is in a hide, this hunter.  Forged by hunting trips with dad and steeled by army service, she has been personally affected and her sister, and her ‘sisters’, sit figuratively  behind her and there is a literal echo. With two screens behind and a live camera in front, the production is often ghosted by the projected image and it is creepy and redolent.   Technically, the captured images are sophisticated and used with deceptive ease by the artist, sometimes there is a controlled freeze as the equipment struggles to keep up with speedy movement and other times recorded footage and coloured images merge with the live. There is a sequence about being on a teacup ride where the grimy red and green and macabre slinking audio is grim evocation.

There is an efficient place setting early, and a skilfully written and acted introduction to mystery of what she has actually done.  The discomforted groan of despair comes early, too, as we women are bonded with  the men who sit beside us and stand with us, in our group response to injustice.  The lighter moments also land well and Cherish Violet Blood sights her audience and squeezes the emotion slowly as the narrative gradually builds to the climax that disturbed my sleeping and probably will continue to.  Prepare yourself.

Though I felt better after text messages flew to my BFF in Brisbane as we discussed, if given the chance, whether we could, would, explode that ball of anger.  After 20 minutes or so we concluded: she could, I couldn’t.  I plan to see this production again if I can get a ticket, a production which brings the phrase ‘visceral thinking’ to mind requires an informed re-visit.  Take the trigger warnings seriously but join me if you can.

DEER WOMAN is created by Indigenous activist arts company ARTICLE 11 in  response to the thousands of Indigenous women and girls recognised as missing in Canada and it is playing as part of the Sydney Festival until January 20.

All things Sydney Festival:
Sydney Festival Website and Digital Program
Sydney Festival 19 Teaser Video