INTERVIEW: Michelle Aitken || Unrule

Image Duncan Wright


Theatre maker Michelle Aitken, fresh from performing in Bow & Dagger’s The Doubleis about to open a show of her own at The Blue Room Theatre called Unrule. She and her team of collaborators are tackling the ickiness of women’s bodies, or rather, women’s anxieties around the perceived ickiness of their bodies. Aitken gives us some insights into making this show, and what audiences can look forward to.

What made you look to the prom scene in Carrie for inspiration? What is it about that scene that resonates with you?

While I was researching for the show I read a paper about how the monsters in horror movies are mostly physical stand ins for our deeper, unexplainable fears. And I think Carrie is both a coming of age story and a story about fear of women’s bodies and sexualities. The prom scene with the (spoiler alert!) infamous blood drop really captures for me something about how having a menstruating body is constructed as monstrous, and this can be a source of anger and power. We played with the idea of dropping buckets of blood on our heads but we couldn’t do it as well as Carrie so we had to make this show instead.


We don’t see a lot of theatre works that deal with body horror here in Perth, though it’s a well-established sub-genre for the screen. How far down that road do you go in Unrule? Is it mostly descriptive or have you made something visceral (a la Betty Grumble, for instance)?

We definitely don’t get close to Betty Grumble levels of mess! The body horror in the show is mostly conveyed through stories. We don’t take on the big blood and guts stuff as much as the smaller, everyday kind of anxieties. That said, I think we’ll need to warn patrons to go to the bathroom before the show because there are a few dripping liquids…


Are you concerned about excluding anyone with this work?

I do have two concerns about who Unrule might exclude. As someone making art about my experiences as a cis white woman, I have a genuine fear of excluding or talking over people from more marginalised groups. That’s been in my mind during the process and I really hope I’ve done ok by people with different experiences than the cast and myself.

On the other hand, I’m honestly not too worried if there are men who are turned off by the subject matter of the show. I’ve heard it said of movies, and I think it’s true of theatre too, that a story about a man is easily seen as universally relatable, but a story with a female protagonist is a story that will only appeal to women.

It’s much harder for a work that centres the experiences of a marginalised group to be seen as expressing something relevant to everyone, but I want to contribute to change around that.

Unrule is an ode to the resilience and bravery of the women around me, but it’s more than a little bit for the boys at primary school who told me that vaginas were gross as well. I guess I internalised a lot of that shame and I want them to know.

So, I hope everyone who knows a woman or has a body can get something from it, whether that be something relatable, something to reflect on, or just a laugh at a sly joke (there’s many!) Besides, if you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross, why not balance that out by seeing Unrule, right?


Please talk a bit about your devising process for the work with your collaborators.  Did you try any new approaches with Unrule? How did you decide what would go in and what would be left out?

Unrule is my first time directing and not performing! In a way, everything was new, but my cast and team have been so supportive and great. It’s been such a fun process for me. We started working with some long chats about ourselves, from funny childhood stories to our deepest fears. Then we brainstormed, wrote, improvised, had craft sessions, made a lot of dumb jokes, and eventually pulled a show out of it all.

There’s so much more material than what ended up in the show. I aimed to first generate with abandon, and then later cut it down while putting it all in an order.

Lots of scenes had to go because they just couldn’t happen with the time, space, budget constraints of making indie theatre… and lots more simply didn’t fit into the final show.


What does the show look like, and how will you tell your stories?

The show is full on! It’s so colourful, textural, and traverses a huge range of emotion. One of my favourite things in Unrule is snippets from interviews I did with the cast, and some of our friends, about their experiences. Another favourite thing is that my mum made the wildest costumes. There’s a giant tampon suit.


What do you expect audiences to think and feel after they’ve seen Unrule?

My dream is that even one person in the audience will see themselves or something that’s happened to them on stage and feel heard and acknowledged, and maybe be able to talk about something they’ve never talked about before. I hope that by bringing our fears and frustrations to life we can laugh about them, and maybe feel a bit less alone.

I think it’s a show with a lot of scope to take what you want from it, but as I’ve been watching runs in rehearsals lately I always end up feeling hopeful, tinged with sadness and anger. Mostly I feel a real sense of solidarity with everyone that’s contributed to the work.


Unrule runs from 28 May – 15 June at The Blue Room Theatre. For tickets and more information, go here: