Review By Grace Swadling
This play is not well-behaved
This is the provocation Vena Cava seeks to amplify with their production of ‘Revolt. She Said.
Revolt Again’ and one director Hannah Barr and her cast throw at the audience with all their might.
Alice Birch’s avante-garde manifesto is not for the faint-hearted. The play is a series of fragmented scenes that seeks to confront ideas around sexuality, gender, female empowerment and female subjugation, and Vena Cava did not shy away from embracing the uncomfortability and nature of these themes.
Opening with a bang (for lack of a better phrase), a young couple discuss the breakdown of language around sexual intercourse - “I want to make love to/with you” whilst simultaneously getting progressively less clothed and more sexually aggressive. The hilariously confused Jamie Dickman played well opposite Gillian Thompson’s impeccable comedic timing and both worked to genuinely make the audience sit and consider the ways we ourselves may have subconsciously played into the gender roles that are deeply ingrained in our social psyche.
However it felt at several times that the actors needed to leave more space for an audience to laugh and therefore understand what they were truly laughing at. The play is fiercely funny but before it allows its audience to settle in a comfortable place, it turns the tables and forces them to question why what they are seeing is actually humorous. More care with this recurring element of Birch’s text would have grounded the piece immensely and allowed the actors to sink their teeth into the language more.
The lighting was patchy at times, leaving some actors in dark spots during crucial moments of dialogue; however the space was used effectively, with a Brechtian style of theater played out as the cast were on stage “warming up” as audience members walked in. Two costumes racks and a black box were the only set pieces, allowing the cast to take up the space with their presence. A screen at the back of the stage was utilized effectively, highlighting Birch’s questions around language and what it means to deconstruct it.
The actors wore tops that clearly identified well-known gendered stereotypes and whilst initially this costume choice seemed a little on the nose, as the play progressed it developed into a subversion of gender stereotypes and confronted an audience with how limiting they can be when dealing with actual human beings.
Mia Chisholm’s "drama queen” just wanted Mondays off work, and yet Birch uses this simple request to showcase how women are often called ‘hysterical’ or ‘bossy’ for creating boundaries or standing up for themselves. Her opponent Madeline Wilson’s “stone cold bitch” was a stand-out performance as was her relentless and rageful monologue as “make-believe mummy.”
Joel Dow excellently portrayed sinister undertones of his male characters whilst espousing romantic sentiments of love, a riveting portrayal of the “nice guy” trope whilst Karrine Kanaan gave a lively and panicked performance when confronted with the realities and trappings of marriage.
This production asserts that ‘every woman you know has experienced something in this play’ - a brutal and saddening assumption that is perfectly captured in Keely Hay’s empowering yet heart-wrenching monologue, with words of dissent written quite literally over her body.
Another highlight of the piece was when Birch’s use of the recurring motif of a watermelon became a visceral metaphor for assault in the hands of Barr and her cast. Audiences familiar with this kind of performance are instantly aware of what might occur when a tarp is brought on stage mid-way through a show like this but it was no less shockingly graphic and a stunning translation of text to stage.
The final image of the play, with just the women on stage contemplating the eradication of men, was moving but ultimately offered no solution to the questions posed throughout the play. It is a bittersweet and powerful moment, begging you not to just passively accept but to question and listen and react. Vena Cava’s production played to this nicely, working to effectively construct their own manifesto of what this play means and to provide the audience with the space to question how they engage personally and socially with sexism, feminism, misogyny and power.