[Tampax: Fury Road]
Why don’t we see characters in apocalypse movies dealing with menstruation?
It’s a glass-shattering insight – a detail that, once noticed, has the ability to change your view of apocalyptic media forever. It speaks to the preoccupations of the genre: spooling mythologies predicting the end of civilisation; tense reconnaissance of abandoned cityscapes; frenetic combat scenes with the undead or extra-terrestrial; and the cis male protagonists so often placed at the centre of these stories.
It is this imbalance that motivates the protagonist of Tampocalypse, Mary (Khaylin Page), an earnest young screenwriter with a story to tell. In the office of disillusioned studio executive Lesley (Briar Collard), Mary pitches her film’s opening with conviction, her words painting the apocalyptic wasteland coming into focus beside her: a derelict supermarket strewn with forgotten trolleys, old newspapers and plastic crates.
This supermarket is the stage for Mary’s vision, and the unlikely meeting place for five even more unlikely allies. Survivors in a world fraught with danger, scarcity and uncertainty, the ensemble of Tampocalypse’s nested dystopia are vividly painted and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. There’s Bea (Rhema Sutherland), a pragmatic loner yearning for companionship and sudoku; Cat (Alex Schofield), hardened but torn between her head and heart; Tegan (Muna Arbon), radiating naivety, energy and charm; Farris (Georgina Marie), a born leader, self-assured and strong; and Aoife (Shelley Waddams), weilding a sharp wit and a frying pan for self-protection.
Trapped together, the women must overcome their personal prejudices to protect themselves from a far more dangerous enemy. Their burgeoning friendships are a highlight of the show, showcasing the nuance in much of the show’s acting and direction. On the periphery of the main action, your eyes are regularly drawn to small, sweet moments that highlight the warmth and trust developing between the group. All the while, the show skillfully translates Mary’s cinematic language into unique theatrical devices that tell the group’s story (including a particularly effective “montage” set to Blondie’s One Way or Another), adding a richness to the storytelling that easily engages your attention, humour and sympathy.
But as we dwell with these charming characters, we’re regularly reminded of the horrors they’re hiding from. Their unnamed adversary is hungry for blood – a dystopian mythos that puts people who menstruate (and our characters) at heightened, unavoidable risk. It’s a fresh take on a familiar story, but studio executive Lesley is unconvinced. Dreaming of palatability and profitability, she variously suggests Mary include corporate sponsorships, rigid archetypes and forced romantic plotlines. Lesley’s attempts to dilute Mary’s vision shake our writer’s confidence, and literally invade the world of her characters, suggesting that the reason for the lack of apocalyptic stories about menstruation is not for want of telling, but rather the difficulty of finding people with power interested in listening.
In Tampocalypse‘s case, an hour feels too short for the story it has to tell. At one point, Mary gains the courage to push back against Lesley’s unsolicited suggestions for Bea’s character arc, saying firmly, “I have plans for her.” Her sentiment rings true for the show itself: a larger vision can be felt in the production’s careful construction, engaging direction and vibrant ensemble of characters. But after so many moments that felt poised to deliver a truly unique resolution, as the lights go down, I’m left reflecting on how many of Mary’s plans could have been realised by another half hour in her characters’ compelling universe.
Tampocalypse was presented by Embers Collective and played at TAPAC as part of Auckland Fringe 28 February to 1 March, 2020.