I thought I'd get on in theatre by ‘keeping my mouth shut’

Hilary Fannin: I recognise the reality described by young women who tried to navigate the theatre world

Whiling away the darkening evening, nursing a gin, thinking about the past and pretending I couldn’t hear the plaintive cries of the finicky cat (she doesn’t appreciate this new trend of putting rice and peas in feline food), I found myself flicking, with increasing ire, through various online publications aimed at women young and old.

“Get me a damn refill,” I barked at the cat, having read yet another riveting article about yeast infections, belly bloat, vaginal dryness and the life-altering effects of trampolining.

“Where are you? My glass is empty!” I called out to the recalcitrant moggie, scrolling through a slew of online features which seemed to suggest that everything from unwanted discharge to thermonuclear war could be solved by drinking plenty of water and adding a drop of hand-pressed rosemary oil to the bath.

“Like hello!” I hollered, wading through testimonies to the restorative powers of zinc and tips on what can be done with a handful of vanilla pods and a bit of imagination.


“Eh? Hello!” I spat, casting my weary gaze over the reams and reams of weight-loss and weight-gain copy and the sea of before-and-after photographs aimed at women who’ve already had to dice themselves into bite-sized career and family pieces and are now being advised to deposit their backsides into a sling of stretch denim.

And sex! Man alive, there is nothing in a woman’s sexual life that can’t be aided and abetted by something she can buy online and slather all over herself or sprinkle on her cornflakes. Sex Dust, for example.

Sex Dust is a herbal powder, “a lusty edible formula alchemized to ignite and excite sexy energy in and out of the bedroom”, which you add by the teaspoonful to your nut milk before pouring it over your favourite sugar-free cereal or, if you prefer, just straight down your wrinkle-creamed neck.

I don’t drink milk; the website didn’t say if the lust dust was compatible with warm gin and flat tonic, but hey.

“You wanna get your furry little ass over here and pour me another gin!” I growled.

Seriously, where was the cat? Her mewling had ceased. Having turned her nose up at casseroled fricassee of duck with asparagus, or whatever mush had come out of the sachet, her bowl was still full.

I noticed a canvas shopping bag, abandoned on the kitchen floor, bulging and listing.

The cat was crouching inside, terrified of the high-pitched banger squeals and clack-jangle of the fireworks that have been singing around our housing estate for the past few weeks. She had slipped into the bag next to a forgotten packet of fun-size Maltesers, sweets meant for the little girls dressed up as fairy princesses who had come to our door on Halloween night.

“Trick or treat!” they’d chorused, giggling under sparkly tiaras, waving their plastic wands, swaying impatiently in their net skirts and ribbons and bows. “Trick or treat?” they’d asked in their innocence, and we’d given them little packets of sweets and told them they were lovely and waved goodbye as they ran off down the path.

Sadness and rage

I don’t have a daughter. But I was a daughter myself, and I am full of sadness and rage when I read online all the mean, dispiriting articles aimed at women, to make us feel not quite good enough, not quite attractive enough, not quite thin enough or sexy enough or savvy enough or sleek enough, as well as the deeply upsetting testimonies of young women (and men) who have experienced, and are experiencing, bullying and sexism in the workplace.

The instances I am specifically concerned with are those relating to Irish theatre, a place I used to try to call home. For what it’s worth, I recognise the reality described by those young women who tried to manage a theatre world where the powerful were ludicrously powerful and the opportunities of finding work have always been few. It was a world I knew once, albeit from the margins of a slight and not particularly successful career.

We all have our stories to tell; memories come back, sharp pricks of light against the black cyclorama. I feel so angry with myself, with the self I was 25 years ago, thinking that if I was nice and compliant and kept my painted mouth shut, someone would give me a job.

“I’m sorry I was obnoxious to you,” I said to the crouching cat, lifting her out of the bag.

“It’ll take more than an apology this time,” she retorted, slipping out of my grip and stalking off into the crashing night.