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Klein Blue: Are There Female Gorillas?

Klein Blue is a theatre collective creating work that entertains and challenges, that innovates and excites. Their first major project is a collaboration between actor-writer Sophie Ablett and theatre-maker Grace Strickland de Souza. Are There Female Gorillas? combines theatre and live art to explore the taboo of female body hair.  With shows coming up at Brighton Fringe Festival (27th & 30th May) and at Camden People’s Theatre’s Calm Down, Dear Festival (31st May - 1st June), Sophie and Grace, co-writers and performers, share the motivations behind the project and the process of creating this experimental piece.

Last April, when we first advertised a two-night run of our show, Are There Female Gorillas?, via a tweet accompanied by a picture of Grace’s lushly hairy armpit, a fair few men felt the need to get in touch:

‘Ew flippin’ shave u freak of nature!!!!!!!!!!’

‘This is why women should just stay at home and do house chores. It’s ridiculous for women to be president.’

‘Honestly. You feminists make me want to turn gay.’

‘I just am starting to think that y’all are a whole different race though along with the gays’

‘Why don’t you just grow a dick while your at it then you’ll be more equal’

And sure, it was kind of funny or maybe you just have to laugh otherwise it’s too bloody depressing.

The thing is, if women can’t even be free to choose what happens to the very hairs on their bodies, what does that tell us?  Should we be surprised that this extends to not being permitted to choose what grows inside our bodies (Here’s looking at you Northern Ireland, Alabama, Georgia et al.)? If nothing else, it tells us that feminism is, for sure, not nearly done yet.

We started building this show from an image;  a girl and a gorilla, back to back, handcuffed together.  We knew we wanted to explore instinct and the animal, all the parts of women that are squashed into strangling corners. The “you must look this way”, the “you must behave this way” attitudes that are so deeply ingrained we often don’t even notice them (it’s easy to lose sight or consciousness of some of the most deeply threaded double standards weaving through society).  We wanted to unearth one of these, one that wasn’t fashionable or easy.  And our hairy cousins, gorillas, so like us yet so different, offered up the perfect taboo topic - female body hair.  It’s in the very word itself, ‘gorilla’ is derived from the Ancient Greek gorillai, meaning a tribe of hairy women.


When we first started devising, we actually struggled to call the gorilla ‘she’ because when you think gorilla and you think big hairy silverback beating his chest. It’s taken a while, even for us, to associate gorilla and female. To associate femininity with words like, big, hairy, strong.

So, we had our metaphor, we had our characters; ‘Girl’ who loved to be hairless and conformed to the societal aesthetic of what female sexuality should be, and Gorilla who loved fun, bananas and her hairiness and then we threw our love, our lives and our skills into this show.  

What interests us most about making new theatre is how to create something unique and exciting that perfectly articulates the story, how to develop a world and a language that is particular to these characters. With Are There Female Gorillas? we went full throttle with stylistic and device play. The core concept is absurd but the characters’ relationship is rooted in realism.  Clowning weaves through the play, alongside physical theatre, animal work, spoken word pieces and other fun devices such as fruit puppeting and the Spice Girls. There is so much in the show but the characters drive it and anchor it in the day to day experiences of women today. We use anecdotes from both our lives and even some of the beloved twitter troll comments have shaped the final script.

Perhaps, one of the most important things, is that this show is just really fun,  it’s silly, it’s a you-laugh-you-cry kind of experience and that’s why we’re so proud of the weird and wonderful piece we’ve created. We believe, if you can blend entertainment and activism, you can really open up conversations, you can disrupt some of those ingrained attitudes and make space for the possibility of change. There is power in theatre.

Since we’ve been working on the show, Grace has stopped shaving altogether.  

Are There Female Gorillas? will premiere at Brighton Fringe from 27 - 30 May then join Camden People’s Theatre for their feminist festival Calm Down Dear from 31 May - 1 June. For more information visit: kleinbluecollective.com

This project is supported by Arts Council England, The Cockpit and The Fawcett Society. Klein Blue are selling special edition Girl/Gorilla tote bags designed by Ella Strickland de Souza, with a donation from each bag going to The Fawcett Society. Get yours here.