Alice Birch’s ‘Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.’, as presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed by Erica Whyman, suggests various ways to revolutionise the world, language, work and our bodies, with these section titles appearing on a background screen. Four women and a single man – a strong cast who work extremely well together, as well as shining individually – utilise non-matching chairs, some buckets, a table and a few apt props, on an otherwise bare stage which allows focus on the language. Lighting subtly supports in both a realistic and metaphorical manner, and accents of red highlight ideas of revolution and some extreme suffering that develops.
Early sections are traditional in structure, conversations which nevertheless surprise in their manipulation of language and thought, dissecting with humour areas that include gender / power slanted ways of speaking about sex, and what marriage can mean, even today, in terms of possession. As the piece progresses, such structures warp, more surreal encounters mount, and – as the end nears – there is a melee of language and thoughts, a bashing and bridling of gender expectations, patronising and complaints, which continue and add to earlier themes and motifs. This full-on section is called ‘Galvanise’, and – along with reference to the thought not being enough, but action still being required – it is likely that this energy is meant to fuel the final short section that follows, with the possibility of stimulating action in the audience as a result. However, the choices made for the ending delivery and exploration of what is being said leaves more of a feeling of dissatisfaction, rather that the kind of hope or anger that fuels revolutions. While interesting, this seems something of a let down – possibly this is what we are supposed to revolt against, a kind of apathy which we have to find the energy to fight, rather than a wave for us to ride, but if so, the production creates problems that can perpetuate gender differences rather than stimulating positive action.
‘Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.’ seems to reach its audience most strongly in the clearer, earlier sections, and with some very direct moments which stimulated both applause within the piece and guffaws of laughter. The somewhat alienating effect of the latter part can reflect difficulties in broaching the subject of continued discrimination against women, in a modern world where surely ‘we’re passed all that, really’, and where the thought is supposed to have been enough. It may be that such sections are deliberately more disconcerting than engaging as a different way to move the audience, avoiding catharsis at the end in order that reflections and discussion continue after. There is certainly a great deal of provocation in Birch’s dissection of language and what it shows of our society’s behaviour and mores, however, it feels as if some different directorial choices might galvanise people more, and that, actually, this is what Birch’s needle-sharp, searching script wants.
Until 28th, not 22nd @ Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
19th, 24th, 28th – 19:15 (20:25); 20th, 25th – 10:30 (11:40); 21st, 26th – 13:30 (14:40); 23rd, 27th – 16:15 (17:25)