Transform 17

The Darkest Corners, inspired by Reclaim the Night marches, is just one of the premieres at Transform 17, a radical arts festival in Leeds

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In November 1977 hundreds of women took to the streets of Leeds in the UK’s first Reclaim the Night march. Protesters brandished torches and marched under a blanket of darkness, in response to the police’s handling of the Yorkshire Ripper case. While serial killer Peter Sutcliffe was still at large, police advised women not to go out at night to avoid being attacked.

Forty years on, the fear of violence is still present in most women’s lives. Just 7.5 per cent of recorded rape allegations lead to convictions in 2015-2016. A staggering 80 per cent of cases do not get to the prosecution stage.

As a way of addressing the fears women still experience four decades on from the first Reclaim the Night marches, theatre makers RashDash have devised a live show that explores how women feel when they are out in public spaces.

“We wanted to make a show that explores what it is like to be inside the head of a woman when you’re walking alone at night: the kind of things that you worry about; the kind of precautions that you take; and how it’s really interesting that we’re still in a place where we are telling women to take precautions against violence instead of telling men not to be violent,” says Abbi Greenland, who founded RashDash with partner Helen Goalen. “It’s about the fear inside a woman’s head of violence and how that affects your life and your relationships.”

The Darkest Corners, which will be performed at Leeds’ international theatre festival Transform 17, follows one woman as she starts a journey in Leeds and travels around the world. The audience hears her internal monologue as she meets a number of women who are resisting violence against women in different ways.

“We go through our fears and the things that we encounter in public spaces, from cat-calling to assuming you are being followed to the fear of being groped on a bus, which is a story that comes from Mexico, to a gang of women in India called the Gulabi Gang, who combat domestic violence by carrying self defence sticks, to getting into a taxi and worrying that the taxi driver is going to hurt you.”

Transform 17 was established by West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011 and has grown into an independent event whose mission is to “reflect the socially conscious and radical north, whilst connecting to the world”. It will showcase three world premieres – including The Darkest Corners – and two UK premieres.

Believers Are But Brothers, another world premiere, is from Bradford-based writer and theatre-maker Javaad Alipoor. He examines a crisis of masculinity that leads men into an online world of fantasy, radicalisation, violence and reality.

Machina eX, Berlin-based media and theatre artists known for merging computer gaming, theatre and interactive installation, make their UK debut in Leeds with Lessons of Leaking.

In the midst of uncertainty for the UK and its relationship to the EU, parts of the festival will reflect on Europe and its future.

“Transform is a local and international festival and it feels really important that we are dealing with international issues,” says Greenland.

“Leeds has an amazing radical activist history, so when we think about the shows we are going to make we want to make them in the places that are going to feel right for it, and Leeds feels like a place that is up for radical, exciting debate.”

Transform 17 runs from 19-22 April (

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