Ormskirk-raised performer Rosie Wilby returns to the region once again next month with her latest show as part of the Liverpool Comedy Festival; Nineties Woman is the story of her university days and her political and social awakening. Describing it as her most theatrical show to date, she looks back at her involvement with feminist newspaper Matrix, tracks down old friends and collaborators, and examines what has happened to the movement since. “You don’t have to be political to enjoy the show,” she says. “It’s mostly about me making a fool of myself.” MADEUP asked her a few questions…
Your show is based around your involvement with York University’s feminist paper of the time, Matrix, so can you set the scene?
A couple of years ago when I was visiting my dad for Christmas in Ormskirk, where I grew up, I found some dusty old copies of this women’s newspaper I’d become involved with as a student. I decided to go on a bit of a detective mission to find out what had happened to the other women involved – and of course, the woman who everyone had a crush on.
You studied engineering, which needless to say is very different from what you do now…
Ha! Well I’m not using the engineering much now. Though, having said that, I did all my own tech last year for a very tech-heavy show. So the knowledge must be there somewhere. It was definitely the wrong path for me. Although I was good at both arts and sciences at school, my heart chooses creativity every time.
Does the show feature material from life in the family home, as well as the uni experience? Ormskirk does feature, particularly the funny story of getting a free, and not altogether successful, perm from Kevin the openly bisexual hairdresser as he wanted to do an experimental style and put a photo in the window. When he set up his salon in town, it seemed a bit radical and exotic.
Do you consider it a more personal show than your previous works?
I think all of my shows have been very personal. Even The Science Of Sex, which I’ve recently revamped and been performing again due to popular demand, had a story about my own break up at it’s heart. I was trying to understand the neuroscience of romantic love in general terms so that I could get to the bottom of what was happening in my own life. In much the same way, Nineties Woman looks at the broader picture of what happened to feminism and youthful political idealism in a strangely shifting decade, where we went from riotgrrrl to ‘Girl Power’, through the personal lens of my own story.
What was it like revisiting those days?
I think the universal thing that audiences across all ages, sexualities and genders have taken away from the show is that we all go through that strange time in late teens and early twenties of finding our identity. In my case, that came through discovering feminism and becoming more politicised. However you don’t have to be at all political to enjoy the show. It is mostly about me making a fool of myself. My favourite quote about the show came from a bloke who saw it in Manchester and said, ‘I was so engrossed in the story, I forgot they were showing Match of the Day in the pub downstairs’.
What do you want to say about feminism in the show? And how did you feel about tackling it through comedy?
The messages about feminism in the show are fairly subtle. But the main point I’m making is: Where did it go?? It seemed odd that in a decade where we finally got a Labour government back into power towards the latter part, we still didn’t really see any advancements for women on the horizon, despite all the talk of ‘Blair’s babes’. Interestingly, one of the archive photos I dug up for the show was one of an early 90s same-sex wedding demo. I remember thinking we were doing something incredibly daring and that to suggest that gay people should marry seemed a crazy pipe dream. It shows how, in relative terms, the gay rights agenda moved forward while feminism stalled and perhaps even went backwards.
Tracking down old collaborators is not so hard to do these days with social media, but what was the reaction when you did, and what where the thoughts from people about being part of a show?
Yes, social media makes it easier to find people. Most people were happy to be a part of it. I’ve also now found a small indie documentary team and we hope to put together a film version of the story possibly with some different and new contributors. So there’s a callout for anyone who was involved or has memories of Matrix – get in touch! The most interesting thing was finding a group of younger women who put together Matrix Reloaded and finding that our legacy had continued.
Album: Very torn here as I loved Suede and Blur, but I would probably say Pulp’s Different Class. I used to play it as outro music after my How (not) to make it in Britpop show a couple of years ago and thought it had stood the test of time really well.
Film: This is very difficult so I’m going to give you four: The Piano, The Crying Game, The English Patient, Secrets And Lies
TV: This Life
Band: Radiohead – before they became a bit too indulgent
Fashion: A snug purple hoodie I wore almost every day (ugh) in my final year at uni and then was heartbroken to lose at Bank station during my first year in London
Catch Rosie Wilby: Ninties Woman at 81 Renshaw on September 18 at 9pm. Follow Rosie on Twitter @rosiewilby.