4 stars ****
Summerhall (Venue 26)
THEY ARE THE whining, terrifying alarm signals that precede air raids and natural disasters; and then again, they are the gorgeous seductresses of ancient myth, with a song so beautiful that they lure passing mariners to their doom. And both aspects of the idea of the siren are present in this challenging new 60-minute show from Ontroerend Goed of Belgium, in which six young female performers, dressed in gorgeous ballgowns and standing at music-stands, examine their own attitudes to feminism, more than 40 years on from Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch.
What emerges – from a script written by the performers and directed by Alexander Devriendt – is a vividly episodic show, in which sequences of pure voice, wailing, singing and shrieking at sometimes ear-splitting volume, alternate with a range of reflective monologues and images. There are glimpses of male sexuality at its most gross (with accompanying porn video), of the kind of everyday sexism and brutal misogynistic “humour” women still endure, and of the struggle of this generation of young women to square their sexual needs and fantasies – which may include graphic Fifty-Shades-style fantasies of submission and abuse – with their sense of themselves as the absolute equals of men.
The play finishes with a monologue by Charlotte De Bruyne that sums up some of these tensions, and should perhaps have been the show’s starting-point, rather than its ending. Yet despite what sometimes seems a disturbingly confused line of thought, Sirens emerges as a tremendously vivid piece of work about young western women in the early 21st century, checking their privilege, identifying the battles still unwon, insisting on the right to express their own blazing sexuality; and using their voices in ways that break new theatrical ground, and mark this show out as a fantastic theatrical experiment, perhaps still searching for the text that would do full justice to its astonishing performance style.