Writer: Ella Dorman-Gajic
Despite the recent abolition of the “Tampon Tax”, period poverty hasn’t gone away and many women are left with little access to affordable and hygienic protection. Highlighting the ongoing pressures and societal repudiation, Ella Dorman-Gajic has penned audio drama A Bloody Shambles for the Living Records Festival and donates 40% of the profits to the charity Bloody Good Period.
Jess wakes up in a strange room only to find blood has leaked onto the sheets, a familiar occurrence for a girl with a heavy menstrual cycle. As a plan forms to clean up and hide the evidence, Jess’s day only gets worse as she discovers that her new circumstances have left her short of money and with no one to turn to for help.
Despite years of female comics from Victoria Wood to Jo Brand talking openly about periods, embarrassment, guilt, shame and disgust still define how women are made to feel about them. So, as Jess runs through her options, the need to hide her experiences dominates the few hours that Dorman-Gajic depicts in this 20-minute audio drama exploring the complexity of emotion and practical experience of an ordinary monthly event.
The intimate narrative that Jess provides which flits between active descriptions of her movements as well as interior monologue means A Bloody Shambles introduces the topic of period poverty subtly and the listener can only note her use of socks or toilet paper as a stopgap. It is only later in the piece, when Jess assesses her financial situation and cannot afford help that the extent of her situation becomes clear.
There is much to admire in the clarity with which the drama explains some of the physical experiences and effects, using language to give the viewer a visual impression of Jess’ surroundings in the grotty hostel as well as the experience of the period itself, with words like ‘heavy’, ‘damp’ and ‘sticky’ proving particularly vivid while the visual image of Jess removing rusty brown stains from her sheets is pleasingly honest.
Dorman-Gajic (perhaps too briefly) explores Jess’ situation in flashback scenarios in which moving in with her mother’s new boyfriend creates an untenable living situation. Much of the shame the character feels is linked to these experiences and, while the mother’s own disregard for her daughter’s needs is implied, more could be said about the shaping of that crucial relationship and Jess’ own quite deep-rooted anxieties around her period.
The secondary voices are thin caricatures and an encounter with various mindless men makes blanket assumptions about the knowledge and reactions of an entire sex, but there is room to expand A Bloody Shambles into a longer, more detailed examination of the causes and consequences of period poverty. Advertised as not for the squeamish, in fact Dorman-Gajic is making the point that this sense of distaste is ludicrous for something which half the population has or does experience each month. For some, however, financial limitations mean they need a bit more support.
Runs here until 22 February 2021
The Living Record Festival runs here from 17 January to 22 February 2020