‘I’M WOMAN’ is a one-woman show written and performed by Maldovan actor Ana Daud at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London. It presents the autobiographical story of Ana, who has faced many traumas and has needed to overcome them. This production covers a wide range of issues such as prostitution, eating disorders, divorce, and abortion, but without a connection to the audience, the moments in this play that strive for authenticity feel performative in the worst way.
This play moves at such an astounding speed through Daud’s life that when she reaches for moments that should feel hard-hitting and truthful, they fall short. The pacing of this production is a two-fold problem: the story jumps through years and years without any context, and the physical pace of the action inhibits Daud to make smaller, more refined choices. Although small scenes of prayer give the audience moments of pause, these are expository and feel more like a snapshot, rather than connected to the story that Daud tries to present. In these calmer, slower moments, the character (simply called “Woman”) deals with many of the fears and doubts that so many women share, but these are expressed with very little purpose or connection to a larger picture.
Roughly halfway through the production, Daud begins to interact with the audience, by asking the women to put their hand up if they’ve had an abortion. One would think that some rudimentary connection with the audience prior to this would be necessary to make us feel comfortable disclosing that information, and it is this issue that is the strongest with this play. Whilst watching a woman go through traumatic experiences in her life, we feel detached. It is an incredibly tall order to ask an actor of any stature to take on a one-man piece, as connection with the audience is fundamental – indeed with any piece of theatre, in my opinion. The audience must feel as though they’re being told a story, and that we will be taken care of on that journey.
This production ends with graphic projections of video footage of babies being born on the back wall of the theatre, followed by a series of interviews with men who are asked what they think of when they think of a woman. ‘Mothers’, ‘care takers’, ‘sensitive’, ‘my wife’ are almost all of the replies. And at the beginning of 2019, is that really all that a show titled ‘I’M WOMAN’ wants us to think?