Theatre Review: Two Man Show @ Circomedia
by Polly Hember
How do you perform a piece (or, indeed, write a review) about patriarchy when language itself patriarchal? How can you call it out when we can’t speak or think outside of its limitations and ingrained structures? RashDash theatre confront these polemics with insurmountable passion and energy in the wild, brave and fierce Two Man Show.
Two Man Show is performed by three women: Abbi Greenland, Helen Goalen and Becky Wilkie. Wilkie crouches at the side of the stage for the majority of the show providing brilliant, jarring percussion and blaring, full-on punk-rock electric guitar riffs and ethereal, Scandi-esque folk harmonies. She observes the “two man show” on centre stage: Greenland and Goalen perform a brilliant, messy and powerful piece where dance, drama and music collide in an unapologetic explosion.
Starting with a wacky walk through the ages, the three women appeared as glittering goddesses in sequined gowns. Greenland and Goalen offer an alternative historical lecture about the origins of patriarchy, complete with agricultural analysis, reproductive politics, from ancient civilisations to our current day cities, they argue that patriarchy is not in any way natural and rather “springs from fear”. But wait – they jest – don’t monkeys organise themselves in patriarchal hierarchies? – only because the trustworthy Sir David Attenborough, or some other seductive male voice, tell us so. In fact, the squeaky-voiced goddesses sing, men and women were equal for 290,000 years.
From this whirlwind history lesson, they launch into a punk-rock feminist ballad and just as we’ve caught up with them, the music stops and the naturalistic, gruff-voiced narrative of John and Dan commences. This is a feminist show made by women, about men. Specifically, two men that are going through crises of masculinity, family and identity. The estranged brothers are forced together as their negligent Dad is sick. Their stunted, forced and emotionally constipated dialogue is almost unbearable.
RashDash cuts straight to the heart of the matter; patriarchy is destructive and limiting for both men and women, and it is difficult to talk about. The purposeful awkwardness of their male characters is cleverly orchestrated by bolshie and clumsy interactions where nothing much is said. The difficulty John and Dan have in communicating is sharply contrasted by incredible bursts of expressive dance which explode between the tense Dan and John episodes, conveying more meaning in their movements than words could ever hope to.
Sometimes gentle, sometimes angry; the interpretive dancing was one of the highlights of the show. With expert lifts and jumps that look effortless and intimate, the two women dance together almost as one entity, in various stages of undress with unfaltering energy. Full nudity can sometimes be uncomfortable, feel unnecessary or contrived – but the actor’s use of their naked bodies was artful, essential and beautiful. For me, it was empowering. It was fantastic to see confident women moving their bodies without shame, awkwardness or explanation.
A naked dance sequence in which the model Goalen stood on a pedestal with her body positioned by Greenland the artist into famous poses representing the body – starting off with strong, mythical stances like “David the Thinker” and transgressing to stylised and sexualised poses we recognise from twenty-first century magazines and adverts. The changes in directing the female form provide an overt commentary on the shift in the conception of “feminine”, and nicely mirrors the whirlwind speech at the start of the show.
Two Man Show is a brilliantly non-linear, episodic and chaotic production which is a direct defiance to all things ordered, linear and straightforward that are stereotypically decreed as “masculine”. It breaks down altogether at the dénouement: as Goalen is about to break into another “dancey bit”, she begins a pirouette expecting to be joined by Greenland – but Greenland instead is still the bolshie and argumentative John and dismisses Goalen’s funny dance moves and expressive pieces, angrily demanding “what is the point?” to all of this. A fantastic and clever way to open up pervasive discussions about the difficulties of language – the male character John shoots down Goalen’s explanations, facilitating an metatheatrical argument that coyly anticipates critiques questions, answering them before they are even voiced.
The last few sequences are the most powerful: Goalen’s excellent speech on language and its limitations – man wrote it down, man decreed that 'He' is more comprehensive than 'She', that it should be a 'Pilot' and 'Female Pilot', and it convey the meaning we need it to. Language is a subjective phenomenon – Goalen asks John how he can assume that when she says the word 'love' or 'chair', that they are visualising the same thing? A provocative and stirring speech that explodes into the finale – Greenland bursts out of her John character into a fast and furious monologue on modern day femininity where she finds herself with more masculine qualities than feminine. She furiously shouts about t-rexes, about taking up space, about wearing trousers, eating when she’s talking and “fuck tenderness”.
Goalen responds with a counter-posture to this angry righteousness with a pensive piece on how she likes traditionally feminine traits – she wants to walk with a graceful flutter and a whimsical sigh, she likes being looked after by a man who is bigger and stronger than her, she doesn’t mind being the leader- unless anyone else here wants to be the leader instead? – and she likes being called a lady.
These contrasting pieces on modern femininity bravely tackle the trapping clichés of the reductive binaries 'masculine' and 'feminine', tearing each other’s words apart in a vicious, biting attack on gender stereotypes. This is a confusing and messy ending in which the theatre company feels ruptured in order to come together to a close.
Their message is unclear. The interpretive dance is subjective. The ‘point’ is obscure. RashDash have previously been critiqued for their ‘ideas being occluded rather than revealed’, but on the contrary – this is where their strength and power resides. They acknowledge that gender is multifaceted, complicated, contradictory and not straightforward, they do not pretend to give us answers, instead they present a wild whirlwind of a piece that abandons language, signifiers and tradition to find new forms of articulating questions, emotion and thought. They do this through terrifically sharp writing, experimental dance and some fantastic king-kong-style drumming. This is a play about men and women that is all-inclusive, all-encompassing and unapologetic, and one that everyone should see.
Photos by the Other Richard.
Check out RashDash theatre's social links to keep up with them, and browse our gallery to see photographs of the incredible show.
Photos by Other Richard.
2017 Tour Dates:
13-16 Sept Circomedia, Bristol
18 Sept New Wosley, Ipsich
21-22 Sept West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
23 Sept Royal Exchange, Manchester
26 Sept South Street, Reading
28-29 Sept The Tron, Glasgow
9 - 14 Oct Soho Theatre, London
17-21 October The Drum, Plymouth