Sally Hales was at the Wales Millennium Centre’s new Cabaret space to see Belszki’s taboo busting one woman show, Blood, Glorious Blood.
If you’re going to do an hour-long one-woman show about menstruation, you’d best not be bashful. And creator Belszki certainly isn’t. Even a small audience can’t deter her ardour for taboo-busting.
She launches herself on stage with an unfurling tale about the history of often horrific-sounding and sometimes harmful period products. This intro is delivered with the energy of the possessed as she unfurls a layer of underwear for each horror, revealing the negative and sometimes deranged historical attitudes to the subject that all women know still lurk at the heart of modern life.
A tale about how first world war nurses repurposed the highly absorbent dressing for soldiers’ wounds for their own purposes, leading to the first familiarly modern period products, really hits home.
It is in turn shocking, silly and informative – and sets the tone for the show. Blood, Glorious Blood never lets the audience get bored as it barrels through stories from her Belszki life blended with spoken word poetry, interactive games, video skits, a comedy character and a straight call to period activism that’s hard to resist.
Not all of it works. Audience participation involving game theatre-goers drinking various (fake) kinds of menstrual blood felt strained and a touch too far for the small and very sober audience to get on board with in WMC’s new cabaret space, which could do more to create the required atmosphere. And an extended sequence in which Belszki transforms into comedy character Adrainna Mole, a social media influencer, inspired by the what-if-Adrian-Mole-had-been-a-girl scenario, does little to illuminate the subject.
The most successful stuff comes from her personal takes on the subject and the not-so-misty-eyed nostalgia of TV and film’s approach (or lack thereof) to the subject.
As she reads prose-prose poems from her teenage diaries relating mortifying moments of leakage and shocking tampon drama, many in the audience are no doubt reminded of similar scenarios from their own lives. The chance to chortle over the collective trauma in company is a rare treat.
Another nostalgic highlight comes in the form of a commercial break that pulls us back into the world of absurd TV advertising for period products. From blue water to roller skating, we have all been subject to cringeworthy stands-in for the ‘dirty’ thing, which are no doubt embedded into our teenage development. It builds smartly into the main theme: a plea for plain words and the end to shame and disgust.
More sobering is a video segment detailing in earnest the plight of Nepalese women who are sent to live in cowsheds when they menstruate to the detriment of their health and safety. While the audience is helped to plough through their own period trauma, it’s a keen reminder that for much of the world, things are much worse. Other videos highlighting the inspiring period activism taking place around the world immediately lift the tone towards optimism.
The production isn’t always slick but to no detriment to the show’s humour and charm. And you can’t argue with Belszki’s sheer bravado in getting her message across: ladies, let’s talk.
See the full programme for the Cabaret space at the Wales Millennium Centre, here.