I’ll Tell My Story My Way And I Won’t Be Asking Permission (A Review Of Asking Nicely By Hannah Chutzpah)

Hey everyone There are some shows which are so good you just have to see them twice. No I’m not joking this is actually true and it’s all part of the madness of being at the Edinburgh Fringe. One such show is Asking Nicely by Hannah Chutzpah. This is a fast paced fiery and though provoking show which covers a multitude of topics of topics from feminism, to class, from sexuality to science, from relationships to happiness and in all in the name of entertainment.

At the start of the show Hannah introduces herself as a feminist a socialist and a bi-sexual or as she calls it equal opportunities She also is kind enough to offer the audience a trigger warning before she mentions Margaret Thatcher. I don’t know how this goes down in the rest of the UK but in Scotland I think this is a highly advisable tactic. Hannah also informs the audience that this will be an ethical poetry show and as such the audience need told that there will be experiments in this show the results of which will remain confidential unless you’ve enjoyed it in which case get out and tell everyone you know all about it.

Hannah kicks off her personal power hour with the brilliant introduction ladies, gentleman,and those who identify with gender in more complex ways. This sets the tone for a chatty inclusive show which is both engaging and enjoyable. Hannah then gently eases her audience in to the show by showing those in attendance a piece of graffiti which said If you want to achieve greatness stop asking permission. Not surprisingly she fell a little bit in love with this quote, so she stored in her memory bank and took it home to meet her mother who works as a primary school teacher. This led to her opening poem Permission.

In this poem Hannah says this poem for the women can be all they want to be if only they would stop asking permission. My favourite line in this spellbinding opening to the show is ‘this for the women like the gay bar barmaids who know all their regulars and who wear those memories like diamonds’. Talking about the LGBT Lesbian bar women hold themselves more proudly than in other spaces possibly because they don’t need to conform to the rigidity of gender stereotypes. On explaining this to a male friend she was met with the reaction do women usually ask for permission to which she replied yes we do and in a whole host of ways.

To prove this point Hannah takes us back to the days of her youth to Easter 2005 when she and a group of friends went on holiday to Devon. In this poem Hannah recalls that one friend’s constant asking for permission whilst nice to begin with finally became a bit waring and when she kept asking can I have one too once too often the group however unintentionally started to alienate her from the rest of them. Hannah then says there are three types of permission they are (1) Asking (2) Consenting (3) Blessing and each will depend to some extent on what power you have in the situation. Hannah then validates this by explaining that when you are younger asking which is typified by the phrase Please Sir May I? will be the bog standard permission statement as pretty much everyone will have more power than you. Of course as Hannah points out there are times even when your an adult you should for this kind of permission, this especially applies to politicians who wish to run our country. This is a sentiment I would find hard to disagree with.

So why is permission important? Well its important because it represents the difference between an open relationship and cheating and borrowing and stealing. So sometimes it really is important to set us benchmarks and boundaries of what is and is not acceptable within our society.

On introducing her next poem Hannah introduced most of her audience with the possible exception of yours truly to a quotation from former American first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The quote was one I learned by heart when I worked as an equality trainer and it states that ‘nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent but when your a teenager trying to make your way in the world unfortunately that isn’t always the case as Hannah illustrates in her poem Hippie, Sumo, Freak. Said fast enough this could sound like an indy band but its no joke it’s no joke when the taunts are directed at you.

This poem is written for all the clever girls who were overlooked at school and who unlike Eleanor Roosevelt couldn’t brush away the pain of that kind of insult. You see as it transpires Eleanor Roosevelt was kind of right but not completely. You see Eleanor came from a very wealthy family and was married to one of the most powerful men on earth. So the fact that the American press didn’t think she was pretty enough to be first lady didn’t really bother her in the same way it would bother a young women from a council estate or scheme as we call them in Scotland.

In her next tale Chelsea Boy Hannah tells the story of how she accidentally dated a rich kid from Chelsea and how this opened her eyes to class divide within British society. You see Hannah and Chelsea boy inhabited and probably still inhabit two very different worlds in the sprawling metropolis that is London. Therefore it kinda stands to reason that Hannah may have been a wee bit surprised that Chelsea boy had a Salvador Dali original in his house. I mean this is the kind of guy who probably craps tenners for a party trick. However never was the gap between two people so wide as it was at the end of a date when Hannah wanted to take the shortest route home and Chelsea Boy suggested she get a black cab. Now it is not that Hannah is the kind of Londoner who doesn’t know black cabs exist, she does, but she doesn’t need reminding that they are so expensive that you only take them when the last tube has gone, the last bus has gone, and you have loads of friends to share the costs and that is why Hannah and Chelsea Boy split up. As she had just proven with the Chelsea Boy story, Hannah has seen the power unlimited access to the best schooling can buy. It was this kind of confidence which borders of arrogance which inspired the poem Easy Mode.

This poem which covers the topics of class and gender demonstrates the disproportionate power that rich white males have on our society and why they don’t have to ask permission to anywhere near the same extent as women do. This poem illustrates that the barriers women face are still the same as they always were and the glass ceilings and class ceilings are still in place no matter how hard we try to shatter them. Hannah illustrated this point brilliantly when she told a captive audience of the time she met Tory peer Zac Goldsmith at an awards ceremony when she had been nominated for an award for one of the many campaigns she is involved in. On watching Goldsmith’s interactions both in the crowd and from the podium she saw what real money can buy and it was what I would call this culture of entitlement which led her to write what I thought was one the best poems I’ve ever heard on the politics of class and gender politics.

Hannah further enhances this point in Gender Fail 101 Hannah tackles the issues which prove that sexism is still alive and well in UK 2015 and proves the double standards in the saying the different sexes are socialised. You know, the ones Boys will be Boys and That’s Not Ladylike. No matter what excuses people will come up with for using them, these phrases send out very different messages to boys and girls To boys the message boys will be boys allows them to be free spirited even mischievous and they get the message that boys can do whatever they like because there boys. For girls the message that’s not ladylike sends out a very different message. This statement says there are rules, you have limitations on what you can and cannot do, because you are girls. This unfairness travels with us into our adolescence and adulthood and every nightclub ever where as Hannah correctly states some guys just don’t know how to quit.

These are the types of men who will say whatever they need to say in order to get you back to their flat. They will not ask permission to give you their worst chat up with no thought for your emotions. No they think only of their needs This kind of attitude is what boys and men are bequeathed by the politics of gender stereotyping. This gender stereotyping seriously disadvantages girls and woman It is a learned behaviour which the woman of Britain need to unlearn and fast if we ever want to see gender equality in this country.

As she said earlier Hannah has won an award for campaigning and one of the campaigns she is most deeply involved in is the campaign against police violence. In her poem Raise Hannah tackles this injustice with flames of fire, fury, and most importantly of all passion. This is a poet who challenges the very idea that peace protesters can cause a breach of the peace by legitimately claiming their right of freedom of assembly which is protected under the Human Rights Act. This is a poet who is not afraid to challenge the law if she believes the law she is challenging is unjust and unfair. This is a poet who has a mind and is not afraid to speak it. This is a poet of substance and quality.

In her poem Look After Your Happiness Ms Chutzpah reminds us that one permission we should all have the permission to look after ourselves and our own mental health and well being. This is important as we all have busy lives and sometimes need to be reminded that we occasionally should put ourselves first and not feel guilty about doing it. This is a permission we and I do mean women here, don’t often think about due to the fact we are too busy caring for others. If we do think about it we tend to think it applies to our sisters, our daughters, our mothers but never ourselves Well in this poem we are reminded to does apply to us and we do need to value it and look after it more than perhaps we had ever realised.

In her final poem Breathe Hannah continues with the idea of looking after our happiness and just taking some me time. Yes that’s right real quality me time in which we can breathe in all the happiness and positivity we need whilst breathing out ‘All those facebook friends we don’t really like but have enough mutual friends to make it awkward’. Because in the words of the poet herself ‘ this is for Boadicea’s chariots and ‘Rosa Parkes tired feet and all those other we could be, can be, will be, when we stop asking permission to be ourselves’.

You know, I really enjoyed this show it is fast, it was furious it was funny, and in the right places and at the appropriate times it was angry. Yes I do mean angry but this is no fake anger put on by those who pretend to at one with the masses. I mean angry because even in 2015 women have to endure snide comments on our appearance, intellect, looks, and many other factors which men don’t even need to think about. You see there really is no easy mode for women and its because of that fact that I won’t be asking permission anymore. I prefer to tell my story my way and so does Hannah Chutzpah.

Love And Best Wishes

Gayle X


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