Thursday, 22 June 2017

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. June 21, 2017 ***

By Alice Birch, by Malthouse Theatre 
At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until July 19, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  on June 21, 2017

 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Thurs 22 June, 2017 and later in print. KH
 Elizabeth Esguerra, Belinda McClory, Ming-Zhu Hii_photo Pia Johnson

The feminists of the 1960s and 1970s attempted to revolutionise the world but some may question whether the 21st century is a better time for women.

In her play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. British playwright, Alice Birch, rants furiously about breaking the rules and the roles and the language that govern the modern woman.

Birch’s angry rant is like unedited ‘word vomit’ that is spewed upon the page and the stage in a frenetic, often funny and sometimes melancholy series of scenes and snapshots of women revolting – or is that revolting women?

Birch states that the play itself should not be well-behaved and director, Janice Muller, takes her advice, hurling her cast of five into a feverish, intentionally messy and often confusing sort of stage hurricane.

Language is dissected, tortured, misinterpreted, misused and abused in satirical and scathing attacks on sex, the workplace, marriage, reproduction, family, violence and a flood of other issues.

Each of the first five scenes appears in a box-like space that looks like a cheap, motel room on wheels, and each scene illustrates a pithy slogan that is projected overhead.

The first scene, ‘Revolutionise the language. (Invert it.)’, a dialogue between a man and a woman (Gareth Reeves, Sophie Ross), challenges the language of sex and the dominance of the male.

In the scene titled ‘Revolutionise the work. (Engage with it.)’, a young woman (Elizabeth Esguerra) declares that she won’t work on Mondays anymore, while her bamboozled boss (Belinda McClory) scrambles to offer increasingly bizarre solutions.

‘Revolutionise the body. (Make it sexually available. Constantly.)’, depicts a woman (Ross) who lies down in a supermarket and pulls her dress over her head, but even more alarming is her desperate and distressing monologue that reveals her struggle to rationalise her own ‘sexual availability’.

The most poignant and affecting scene is McClory’s anguished outpouring of grief and confusion as a woman who cannot communicate with her daughter (Esguerra) or her own mother (Ming-Zhu Hii).
 Belinda McClory, photo Pia Johnson
This production is an assault on language, on the senses, on the rules that govern our behaviour, but its message remains unfocussed, perhaps in the same way that 21st century feminism is unfocussed and the rules for women remain blurred.

The final scenes are chaotic, almost hysterical, as the cast rushes around the space shouting slogans, throwing weird costumes on and off, questioning behavioural rules and telling us that words fail when there is no ensuing action.

With its feverish pace and crackpot attack on language, this play is oddly entertaining but its message is as fractured as its style and content.

By Kate Herbert
 Ming-Zhu Hii, Belinda McClory, Sophie Ross -photo Pia Johnson_

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