The ‘P’ word and the play ‘Oleanna’


The P. Word and the play ‘Oleanna’.

I have to say that my life has been lightened with laughter this week due to the scandalous “P” word being one of the lead items on the six o’clock news.   I’m a girl from the sixties who pre-dates the Tampon practically, and I haven’t enjoyed such a good joke in years.   You see, I raised two men to adulthood and I’m a grandmother, and I don’t ever recall talking openly about my monthly cycle to my lads.  It wasn’t until my first daughter-in-law arrived at our dinner table, that we kind of tacitly agreed that I too might have had cycles that affected my monthly well-being (mood-swings even).

Of course I had hormonal mood swings and possibly even more dramatic as my monthly cycle declined.   I was emotional, probably a bit frightened, and mournful too, of the ending of the joyous fertility that the monthly cycle heralds.   All of those things and more; because each cycle is a time of extraordinary potential.   Ah, but did I burden my employer, or my family?  Well, hubby was in on the secret and we both knew what pre and post monthly tension was and we both enjoyed too, the added benefits of the fertility cycle – it is of course, not without its benefits.   But too, may I add, I count myself one of those fortunate women whose life was not seriously affected, so I’m speaking from you might say, a vantage point.

But, the hue and cry this week all around New Zealand over the anachronistic remark of Alasdair Thompson, of the Employers Association, has lifted my laughter levels and reminded me that laughter is surely the very best medicine.   Mr Thompson it seems has gathered his scientific evidence from a female member of staff in his human resource team who was monitoring the sick leave of his own staff.  Is the human resource manager who monitors the leave, a menopausal granny with an axe to grind who wishes she was still menstruating, or is she one of those fortunate women who barely bleeds and who can’t believe that others do?   And here I must confess that perhaps I was once one of those; although not the granny with an axe to grind.   Ah, but isn’t it the case so often, that we girls are sometimes in on upholding these entrenched views – you know how it is, I get on with it, so you should too.

I worked in recruitment for almost twenty years and so I know the attitudes of employers, the make-up of groups like such as the Chamber of Commerce back in the eighties, and many male Chief Executives of small to medium-sized your average-run-of-the-mill home-grown Kiwi companies.  It is not that long ago (the mid to late seventies) when to send six CV’s to the National Bank for graduate intake, that we knew if someone had a Maori sounding surname, that only five candidates would be interviewed and the gender balance would tip in favour of men, whichever way it went.   I stand by this assertion but I recognise it’s untrue in this the 21st century.    I recall a time when an employer was able to ask upfront, if a woman newly married was planning a family, and if so… when!    As a recruiter, I was expected to pre-screen candidates about this.   My boss at that time, a wonderful woman I worked for in the recruitment industry used to say, and…  you could just as easily get hit by a bus.

I’ve read the outrage over Mr Thompson’s remarks and the hilarious tweets.   This from Hilary Barry “Feeling hormonal. Might go home. #alasdairthompson” and a tweet or two later she tells us she is planning sex education to her sons using Mr Thompson as an example.    A few people who are equally outraged also point out that he’s not a bad bloke.   I quote in this morning’s Dompost, Mai Chen “I’ve known Alasdair for a long time and I like him, but frankly, he’s wrong.”   And from Australia, Deborah Bush, a member of Pelvic Pain Steering Committee Australia evidently said ‘although she agreed his comments were discriminatory, he had a point.”

I for one thank the man from the bottom of my granny heart, that finally, periods have made the six o’clock news.


How come it took so jolly long?

And the truth is that everyone is laughing at Mr Thompson, men and women alike, all around New Zealand, laughter… surely?

And here I must shamelessly alert you to my début in 2001 into  Sport, the prestigious Victoria University Press literary magazine.   It is my only publication in Sport titled ‘Saturday Night Shopping‘ a story about the purchase of the productivity-stopping monthly supplies.

And this allows me to segue nicely to a play I saw last evening ‘Oleanna’ by David Mamet.   This is a terrific performance by the Butterfly Creek Theatre Troupe.    They describe the play in the promotional flyer thus ‘this play about political correctness gone wrong or maybe it’s about the misuse of power has divided audiences around the world’.   Well, I don’t think Mr Thompson has quite managed that, I think he has united audiences in New Zealand who think his ideas dated, unscientific and well, as mentioned before, laughable.

David Mamet’s play is not so funny, more compelling, and thought-provoking.   The acting is outstanding and all the more impressive  because one of the actors, Damian Reid, was stranded in Melbourne due to the ash-cloud from the Chilean volcano, and John Marwick, Director of the play, stepped in and read the lines (to perfection) of the Professor.  The student, Carol, is mesmerizingly played by Sarah-Rose Burke who has to develop the character of Carol over eighty minutes in a stunning yet subtly splendid performance.   It is the first time I have seen the play and cannot compare this production with any other, but it was brilliantly rendered so that your sympathies are constantly moving (well mine, anyway) from one character to another.   The wardrobe too, played a fascinating role in the development of the character of Carol, the student, who starts the play as a confused almost hapless student in her ankle-length little black socks and slipper-style shoes, and in the next act she is wearing fabulously hot shiny red shoes and the final act wearing lace-up boots, in the powerful position of being able to threaten the Professor’s tenure, and finally, much worse, for both of them.

Oh, the ending is superb, and having looked up the play, I see that the ending is often changed sometimes, depending on the Director...

“The danger with the play is that it can easily seem a partial, loaded, one-sided attack on the student and on female solidarity in general .But Pinter’s production scrupulously avoids that trap by giving equal weight to both sides of the argument.”

And so too, does John Marwick’s production.

I was reminded of ‘Disgrace’ (J.M. Coetzee), both the book and movie, which explore the sexual power relationships both within a university and in a compelling story of forgiveness in a rural apartheid setting.

If you live in the Wellington region, it’s worth booking a seat in the intimate theatre up on stage at Muritai School, to be at the very least disturbed at the very best, spellbound and provoked.

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