The Honeytrap excel in creating experiences that leaves its audience confronting their own biases or blindspots. I still vividly recall its immersive site specific one person at a time production of The Maze, where I followed a young woman as she walked home late at night and listened to her thoughts via a set of headphones. That was seven years ago but such was the effect it had on me. In 2023, The Honeytrap presents its new show The Hotline, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which shifts its focus from the dangers women face of being attacked or killed by a man, to the dangers women face of being attacked or killed by their own body.
Participants dial a 1800 number on their phone and in a choose your own adventure style, they navigate through the frustrations and hypocrisy of getting reproductive healthcare and support. For amendments to the Therapeutic Goods Act, Press 1. For access to ECP Press 2. The first thing I note is how convincingly creator Kasey Gambling has made this experience. The sound design by Josie Steele, from the ringing of the phone, the slightly muffled / static sound of the operator and the background jazz music that plays is incredibly authentic, and slightly triggering for anyone who has ever been put on hold or had to go through an automated service before.
Gambling voices the operator and the chirpiness and clarity with which she speaks adds a level of dread the deeper we delve. It's a satirical but frustrating look at the ways that women's bodies have been policed and subjected to scrutiny from politicians, religious leaders and lawmakers with little regards for their needs, like the 24-hour help-line for women concerned about an unintended pregnancy set up by the Abbott Government that was later revealed to have representatives from two anti-abortion groups on its committee, and how the privatisation of Telstra prevented women from accessing mifepristone, a hormone blocking drug that is needed for a pregnancy to continue, courtesy of John Howard and Brian Harradine. Becoming aware of this information is all dependent on the story you go on, so who knows how many other shocking surprises are hidden in The Hotline.
The phone call culminates in hearing a woman give her own experience of having to traverse the healthcare system in Australia. I listen to her discuss having premenstrual dysphoric disorder and how it impacts her life. On my second call (couldn't do just one), I hear another woman discuss her desire to have a hysterectomy only to be denied by her doctors. At the end of the story, the listener is encouraged to leave an anonymous recording of their own experience within the healthcare system, which will then be played to another person. In doing so, Gambling gives a voice to women to share their experiences and stories, and remind others that have gone through something similar that they are not alone. For me, a white, cis male, it highlights the precarious positioning of women's health rights despite the so-called progress we've made, and we only have to look to America to see how suddenly things can drastically move backwards.
The Hotline may only be a 10 minute experience and while it is initially fun and humourous going through the button pushing and hearing the derision of our healthcare system, once you've ended the call, which feels more like a dismissal, there is a sense of indignation and despondency that lingers in the air. Just like countless women have no doubt felt when they are told what they can and can't do with their bodies.
The Hotline is a free, 10 -15 minute long, digital, on-demand event running until 22 October.
To experience this show, please call 1800 960 929