Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman review – menstrual mystery tour

A woman, naked but for a pair of blood-red shoes, walks to the front of the stage. She removes a lipstick from her vagina and applies it to her lips, transforming them into a crimson gash. Then she draws a scarlet line from her mouth to her pubis.

Welcome to the world of Marisa Carnesky and the Menstronauts, who meet monthly under the dark moon, discombobulating Southend’s dog walkers and reclaiming their matriarchal heritage through ritual. The aim is to forge new futures – and that includes both babies and revolution. The latter is likely to be bloody.

There is something delightfully po-faced and deliciously tongue-in-cheek about this 75-minute oddity that begins with Carnesky on stage, as if giving an academic presentation, and turns into something far more cheeky and personal, eventually morphing into the downright hair-raising.

Carnesky has always been a supreme show-woman, with projects such as the fairground ride-inspired Carnesky’s Ghost Train making theatrical capital out of the sideshow, feeding off their tawdry glamour and recognising the similarities between the 19th-century freak show and the outcasts of our own era. She has also always had a good instinct for taboo-breaking.

Drawing on the skills of an all-female group of live artists, Carnesky turns menstruation – a subject still seldom talked about publically – into a series of turns. A woman is sawn in half and put back together again not at the behest of the traditional male conjuror, but as a sign of renewal and rebirth. Performer H Plewis smears herself and the stage with red jelly that may – or may not – be made from her own menstrual blood. MisSa Blue swallows a sword, the length of which is determined by the stage that she is in her monthly cycle. There is some very unusual puppetry.

Off-beat strangeness … Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman Photograph: PR

“Anyone on right now?” enquires Carnesky, and it’s hard to tell whether she’s joking or not when she announces that she hopes that by the end of the Soho run, the entire audience will have synchronised in harmony with each other. It may sound daft, and the show revels in its own off-beat strangeness, but there is a serious point to be made, too, that if we pay scant regard to our own bodily cycles, it may reflect a deeper disregard for the cycles of the planet itself.

While it celebrates the female body and its wonders, the show also has an emotional edge heightened around issues of conception and giving birth. This definitely isn’t all for laughs, particularly in the way it deals with the pain of repeated miscarriage, when blood is not a symbol of fertility but infertility.

With a twinkle in her eye and using images from Medusa to the whore of Babylon, Carnesky ponders female myth and speculates whether Jesus’ bleeding wounds on the cross are just an appropriation by the patriarchy of the great menstrual magic ritual. Maybe not quite magic but nonetheless a weirdly entertaining evening.

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