Runs until 13th August
Revolt was a jumble of creative production which ranged from incredibly beautiful scenes, with detailed and elegant style, to a mess of overlapping and bewildering dialogue. The play serves as an examination of modern-day feminism, asking the key question: how can we change anything if our language remains the same? Birch thus puts forward a compelling argument for how one can change the dialogue by challenging the core building blocks of the words themselves. So, what follows is an hour of dynamic vignettes, where conversation gains momentum as the tone becomes more frenetic and angry, the language more inflammatory and visceral – just the atmosphere one would need to incite this anarchic Revolt.
The play begins with Emmanuella Cole and Robert Boulter (the only man in the performance) in two chairs facing each other after a dinner, as the other two cast members look on in the background. Boulter’s character is attempting to seduce Cole’s by talking dirty to her, yet she stops and corrects him as he informs her of his desire to ‘make love to her’, instead telling him that he should make love with her. From there, the scene spirals into a role reversal with a flashing title above the stage stating: REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE. INVERT IT. Thus it follows that the tables turn so that she has the power, inverting the standard male-centricity of talking about sex. “I’ll screw you,” he tells her, “no! I’ll spanner you!” she replies, and therein lies the beauty of Birch’s writing. Entertaining, yet pointedly revealing the double standards that are taken for granted.
What follows is a series of seemingly unconnected scenes that explore all of the different facets of everyday life and the way in which attitudes towards women are shaped by expectation and language. One of the areas examined are relationships, where the institution of marriage is presented as one that furthers male dominance. Beth Park’s character compares a proposal to suicide bombing a supermarket, taking umbrage with the possessive nature of becoming someone’s wife (REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORLD. DO NOT MARRY.). Another aspect they explore is that of the workplace, wherein Cole’s character tries to convince her boss (Emma Fielding) to give her Monday’s off, simply because she wishes to sleep more (REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORK. DON’T DO IT.). A humorous moment comes there when Fielding pleads with her, claiming they have wine, chocolate, and a vending machine – all of the things that make women happy. As with all of the comedy in this play, it is a double-edged sword of self-aware stereotypes and a scathing critique of societal norms.
“a beautifully raw and unsettling piece to watch”
From there, the play becomes a lot grittier, as the language becomes increasingly more primal. A woman (Fielding) is found mostly naked in aisle 7 of a supermarket, and when asked ‘what the fuck were you thinking?’ her response was heart-wrenchingly poignant. Her claim that her body’s edges were a battleground, a war she raged continuously, raised the issues of body consciousness and an acceptance of the effect her body has and the reactions it stimulates results in a hauntingly defiant surrender of it, which no one knows how to deal with.
Following this, it seemed as if the build up to a revolt had reached its first threshold. A scene with three generations of women who were all abused in some way: by men, by each other, by themselves. This scene was the turning point; it seemed that language had failed them entirely, so they decided to emancipate themselves from their voices by cutting out their tongues with an unsettling splash of red paint against the otherwise clean black staging. Up until this point, the set was minimalist and relied on the stellar performances and engaging script. From that moment, more props were brought on (a table, some cutlery, buckets, and other random tidbits) which only served to add to the chaos of the scene.
In an obvious attempt to replicate the near-constant deluge of information and expectations women are inundated with daily, the actors all began speaking at once in what was quite frankly a mess of five minutes. The bewildering juxtaposition of various stories all being told at once was effective to the extent that it did show the sheer torrent of issues (ranging from hymen to porn, to rape to watermelons). Yet, it was all a bit too much to truly fit into those cacophonous five minutes.
Fortunately, it was saved by a beautifully delivered monologue by Park. She weaved a heart-breaking metaphorical tale of feminism (despite the fact that the ‘f word’ was never once explicitly said in the entirety of the play), detailing the disappointment of thinking you were building a mountain, and all you were left with was a molehill. Articulating the expectation of ‘kindness and hope being enough and the thought being enough’, and realising that is not even close. From here, the women decide to start a Revolt and overthrow everything, from the monetary system to eradicating men entirely. Seemingly both a last resort and only option to a group so systematically marginalised that it has become normal.
Alice Birch claims she wrote this piece in 3 days, and at times that was astoundingly clear. While it had its moments of unnecessary avant-garde styling, which rather detracted from the message by leaving the audience wondering what on earth had just happened, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is a beautifully raw and unsettling piece to watch. The energy and rage is evident, and rightfully so. This play wasn’t written to make you comfortable, nor was it entirely a call to action. It was intended to make you think, and in that I cannot fault it. The ensemble cast delivered a nearly faultless performance – not one of them stood out as outstanding because they all were. In all, Erica Whyman provided a directorial success, leading an excellent cast through the treacherous discourse that is contemporary feminism while avoiding the pitfalls of stereotypes and providing thought-provoking discourse.
Image: Richard Lakos