REVOLT, SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN.
by Alice Birch
16 June -9 July 2017
… electric cast generate a riotous brilliance that will leave you buzzing'
Cameron Woodhead, The Age ★★★★
REVOLT, SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN
by Alice Birch
Director: Janice Muller
Set & Costume Design: Marg Howell
Lighting Design: Emma Valente
Sound Design & Composition: James Brown
Stage Manager: Tia Clarke
Assistant Stage Manager: Hannah Bullen
Performed by Elizabeth Esguerra, Ming Zhu-Hii, Belinda McClory, Gareth Reeves and Sophie Ross
★★★★ Electric cast generate a riotous brilliance that will leave you buzzing The Age
Nominated for Best Ensemble,
Green Room Awards 2018
Photography: Pia Johnson
Photography: Pia Johnson
Revolt. She said. Revolt Again review: Electric cast generate a riotous brilliance that will leave you buzzing
By Cameron Woodhead
22 June 2017
Alice Birch's lobs a theatrical grenade into the struggle of being a woman in the 21st century, exploding treacherous language, life-denying myths and stereotypes, in a play as energised by hilarity as ferocity, by anger as anguish.
In Melbourne, feminist theatre has serious cultural voltage behind it –artists from Patricia Cornelius to The Rabble produce some of our most inspired, vibrant performance –so it's unsurprising Janice Muller's production of this London-based playwright achieves an electric brilliance that will leave you buzzing. It begins with a series of subversive scenarios hacking away, initially with comic force, at entrenched conceptions of gender through sex, marriage and work.
A woman (Sophie Ross) upends a man's (Gareth Reeves) verbal foreplay, leaving him nonplussed when she matches his sexuality for objectification, aggressiveness …and penetration. Another (Ming-Zhu Hii) strips bare romantic trappings from a marriage proposal, defiantly employing traditionally masculine manipulations. A third scene sees a frenzied corporate lesbian boss (Belinda McClory ) offer every kind of fringe benefit to placate an employee (Elizabeth Esguerra ) who just wants Mondays off. The dialogue writhes with black humour, disturbing undercurrents of racial politics and depressingly familiar assumptions attached to female desire.
A surreal encounter unleashes the show from the confines of its elevated, boxy set. Two supermarket employees berate and fat-shame a woman who has destroyed watermelons and lies in the dairy aisle, genitals exposed. Did she just slip over? Who knows? But her response to their abuse –a monologue that willingly submits to every violation and judgment the world can throw at her body –delivers from on high a horrifying hymn to false empowerment.
In a clear-felled wood littered with stumps (hold on to your castration anxiety, fellas) three generations of women clash over motherhood, domestic violence and a genealogy of brutalisation. It's portrayed ingeniously as a bleak take on Red Riding Hood, with grandmother and wolf combined, and McClory as the frantic excluded middle –Red's mother –from the fairy tale.
All hell breaks loose from there. Birch's stage direction that "this play should not be well-behaved" has been taken to extremes. A chaos of weird sights, blurted lines, fragments and memes conquers the stage, and in one sense, it might be too much like the black noise our attention-poor, digitally-engorged age vomits into our brains every day to be successful art.
Yet there may be a different way of reading this overstimulated, confronting morass. Perhaps it is really a silence, the kind Pinter identified when "a torrent of language is being employed".
What this funny, furious and intensely alive piece of theatre does expose is a culture and a language in need of wholescale reinvention, not simply in terms of gender, but on the scale of social possibility generally.be true.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again review – the ferocious, urgent roar of young and angry feminism
This audacious production explores the idea of theatre – and gender – as a construct, and is a testament to the strength of feminist performance in Australia
Thu 22 Jun 2017 I've lost count of how many women I’ve seen raped on stage. How many actors I’ve seen slapped, spit on, thrown to the ground. How many women I’ve seen killed. There’s too many to keep concrete thought; too many to remember each actor, each play.
We forget, too often, the work that is demanded of the actor to make herself available for weeks in the rehearsal room, and then every night on stage, to fulfil someone else’s vision – usually a man’s, because directors are usually men– of a woman destroyed.
Alice Birch doesn’t want this work to be unseen. Her angry and frantic play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, is an experimental work focused on using a feminist voice which is loud; a feminist voice which seeks to change the world not through small increments but through a revolution: through the destruction of language; through the destruction of society.
Over four distinct sections, each playing with form and language in a new way, always reacting harshly against the world, Revolt fractures the lines between performers and characters. In the second section of the play, directed here by Janice Muller in its Australian premiere, we watch an eerie and insidiously violent tableau under a sickly green light. Three women stare out to the audience – some sort of dysfunctional family – three generations of women struggling against the world.
And then the front begins to crack: Belinda McClory flounders over her lines. She takes a step back, breathes, apologises for the work of it, questioning herself. The other two women on stage don’t react: this breakage is of Birch’s creation.
In this moment McClory is completely clothed, there are no men on stage, no bodies are touching – or even looking at each other – but her words are describing the violence of men against women, and in this splintering between McClory and her character Dinah I think of all of the women I’ve seen abused on stage, and see all of the stress and difficulty of this work that we too often don’t remark on. Birch and Muller build smaller breaks between character and actor throughout the work: a snicker here, a breath there, and the cast are endearing in these divisions.
Revolt is given an audacious and ambitious production in Malthouse’s biggest theatre space, and these ideas of theatre – and gender – as a construct are always present. First performed in 2014, Revolt is the roar of young and angry feminism of women in their 20s grappling with the realities of the world for the first time; the ferocity that comes when you realise that, unlike what you’ve been taught, men and women aren’t yet equal in society, and the world is made of more barriers than you’d ever realised. It is a constantly inverting work: calls of strength towards a revolution warp into methods of destruction against the women they are supposed to help.
Revolt is sometimes confused, Birch’s yell not always coming through clear. Muller’s direction looks to overwhelm, but occasional lapses in the energy allow us too much time to step back – and re-entry into the work can be difficult.
But if it isn’t always completely realised, there is an urgency to the work, and it poses a deeply fascinating challenge to its audience, both in the watching and in the intellect it asks for afterwards.
If the production forces me to think on the prevalence of violence against women in Australian theatre, so too does it remind me of the strength of feminist performance and critique in this country. Emma Valente’s lighting is uncompromisingly vivid, evoking the colour palates she often plays with with artists like Adena Jacobs and her own company, The Rabble. Marg Horwell’s design sees the opening scenes in a soft pink curtained box, playing off the design of The Second Woman; an oversized peach dress filled with balls creates a misshapen lump that views women’s bodies in much the same way as Monster Body; she even crafts in a nod to the most recent Mia Freedman controversy. If occasionally Birch’s Britishness sits too heavily in the text, the actors and design are always there to remind us this is an Australian story, too. And it’s a story of work that is yet to be done.
In the play’s final moments, a young black woman (Elizabeth Esguerra), sadly, tiredly – but not without hope – stares into the audience. “Who knew that life could be so awful,” she says, more statement than question. A smatter of laughs comes from the audience, but only from men. The women know it to be true.