As a card carrying feminist, my secret desire to be (and, let’s face it, be with) Indiana Jones always felt like something I had to suppress. Not because I didn’t want to get chased by giant boulders or offer up some great one-liners or have someone write “LOVE YOU” on their eyelids (I’ll win the boyfriend over on that one eventually), but because the life lessons my childhood action heroes offered aren’t exactly in harmony with the ideas I now have about things like women’s rights and privilege and, well, equality in general.
Enter Rowena Hutson and her show Strong Female Character, an hour long exploration of that exact problem, told, in fairly unique fashion, through quick costume changes, a Frankie Valli singalong, and a lot of fake blood. Yet, for all the laughs had, this isn’t all fun and games – because after all, Indy was funny, yes, but also flawed.
Despite being part of the Brisbane Comedy Festival, this isn’t a straight stand up piece (the fake blood was your first clue). Rather it’s an insightful look at how Hutson, growing up as many of us did, idolised Han Solo, John McClane and – of course – Indiana Jones. The show also explored how she came to realise that her heroes weren’t exactly imparting the ideal kind of wisdom she needed as a young woman.
It’s clearly an intensely personal reflection for Hutson, performing a balancing act between dedicated film buff and ardent feminist, yet it remains fiercely relatable for anyone who ever realised that Ghostbusters’ Venkman casually dosing Dana with the Thorazine he just happened to have in his pocket was a little bit weird…
After all, to quote Madame Bovary, “We must not touch our idols; the gilt comes off in our hands.”
But, before anyone in the audience has a chance to leap to their on screen hero’s defence, Hutson does it for you. And that, for me, is the real power behind this show.
Hutson isn’t here to damn the things we loved as children and still (maybe a little more secretly) love now. Instead, she offers new life lessons that we can take from these beloved, though problematic, characters. Perhaps even more importantly, she asks us to see that problematic side as an avenue to ask questions and inviting discussion. We can’t change what these films say about women, for example, but we can change what guidance we take from them.
Hutson as a performer is lively and engaging, keeping the small audience riveted for the full performance, and her attempts at audience participation were always met with enthusiasm. From re-enacting all five Die Hard movies in under five minutes, to a heartfelt letter to her 14 year-old self, to flashing her custom made Wolverine claws. Hutson is relatable, insightful and every bit as funny and flawed as her childhood heroes.
This reviewer attended the Wednesday 16th March performance.
Rowena Hutson’s Strong Female Character takes over the Graffiti Room at the Brisbane Powerhouse from Tuesday 15th March and runs through until the 20th.
Tickets for her show, and all the Brisbane Comedy Festival events, are available at the Brisbane Powerhouse website.