Six women stand onstage, dressed in evening gowns, each of them at a sheet-music stand. They clear their throats, strike a tuning fork and then they sing. The noise they make is… horrible. It’s a tuneless, loud, high-pitched clamour and it continues for what feels like a very long time.
The beginning of ‘Sirens’ sets the tone for the rest of notoriously provocative theatre company Ontroerend Goed’s most recent show: it’s uncomfortable, but riveting. The starting noise, and the title, refers to the Greek myth of the sirens: women who, with the power of their song, draw boats with whole armies towards their island, only to ensure they end up shipwrecked.
The image of the seductive destroyer woman has been perpetuated throughout history, and ‘Sirens’ tackles this vision head on. The piece has no narrative: instead it’s a series of vocal games, lists and one or two stories. At one point, blurry images of people having sex are projected onto a screen, and the women at the front comically re-enact some of the movements while singing. They list skin creams – the type, the cost – they list the women they hate – Jennifer Aniston, Maria Sharapova, Beyoncé.
There’s humour in the cast’s deadpan delivery, but discomfort comes when we are told snippets of everyday sexism and an endless list of jokes about women. Then one of the cast recounts the precautions she takes when she’s walking back from a night out – all little things that will be recognisable to any woman who has ever walked home alone. By putting these things live, bare and loud on stage, ‘Sirens’ challenges how we live today.
This is not a show that pitches women against men, instead it’s a call to arms for both sexes. Women, the show suggests, are just as complicit in creating our place in society as men are. It’s a dynamic, essential evening and one that challenges the way we see each other and ourselves.