June 18, 1812. America declares war on Britain for its continuous seizing of American boats as they try to trade with France (Britain’s no.1 enemy at this point) and the kidnapping of American sailors. The country is whipped up in frenzy, everyone is a spy and suspicion runs high amongst the people of Britain. But in the Baxter household, a different battle is just beginning to brew.
What if an American fugitive was to be found harbouring in the respectable house of Baxter, what would happen then? Would the family be tried for treason? Would it mean imprisonment...or worse? The threat is real and the prospect of public execution is looming over them like an ever more present black cloud and if the Baxters do not tread carefully, businesses, reputations and lives are all at risk.
Frenzy or no frenzy, fourteen year old Mary Wollstonecraft is taking none of it. The fugitive is no spy, he is no criminal, and so what is the problem? The court would understand; the jury would be merciful...
From Mary’s point of view, everything is quite simple and straight forward but from the bitter lessons that history has taught us, (and is teaching us still), we know differently. We know that juries aren’t always so forgiving, people over look the facts and the men in power are not necessarily known for their merciful nature and kind hearts. (Perhaps Mary knows this but hey, let’s not forget that she is the only teenager in the room here and she WILL be listened to.)
Like so many of us teenagers nowadays, we’re at this really weird stage of wanting to prove to anyone who will listen how confident and independent and strong minded we are...while simultaneously wanting zero of the responsibility. And what do we know? Really? About the world, about the people in power and about their motives? We’re far too busy on our phones to be noticing anything about the world we’re living in, right?
You see, as young people trying to make our way in the world, our lack of experience can actually be an advantage to us (yes, really it can!). We process things in a way that allow us to get from one side of this raging torrent of a metaphorical river of problems, to the other – without having to consider the pros, the cons, the financial difficulties if we don’t manage it, the ill reputation that it could cause us – we just build a bridge and get over it. Mary, at this moment may seem to be annoying – impertinent even – as she defies her elders and actively raises her voice in a time when being “seen and not heard” was key - but she is standing up for what she believes in and whether she is considering the consequences or not, is there really anything wrong with that? She believes that this American fugitive is simply seeking refuge in a time of uncertainty in his life – he is in the wrong place at the wrong time and that is all. Simply because he perhaps looks a little different, comes from an ‘enemy’ country and speaks with a funny accent does not make him a man to be feared; a spy; a terrorist.
This reflects only too accurately on the current sticky situation that the world seems to be sinking itself in at the moment. Politicians cannot seem to see past differences in cultures diverse from their own, horrific acts of racism and bigotry seem to be in the headlines, women are marching for their rights and suddenly we seem to have been catapulted back to the generation of our parents (and possibly even earlier). What on earth is going on?
Acts of strength and resilience are in desperate need but too many of us are fearful to stand up for what we believe in and know to be right. We are fearful that just like Mary; our voices may be shut down and scorned at.
But what if that’s all it needs? More people to rock the boat and just stand up and take action and responsibility for what we believe in?
This is what “Monstrous Bodies” does – it evokes you and provokes you, stirs you in your seat as the story unfolds, causing you to reflect upon and question what is really going on in the world around us. Who are the real monsters?
Written by Georgia Tatò - Assistant Assistant Director for Monstrous Bodies
Monstrous Bodies April 19th - May 6th at Dundee Rep Theatre