Traverse Theatre (Venue 15), Edinburgh – 17 -28 August 2016
Reviewer: Joe Christie
A guttural call to arms, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. at the Traverse presents a broiling manifesto for feminist revolution.
It may not be beholden to iambic pentameter, but make no mistake, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. lives firmly in the literary tradition of the RSC. A series of vignettes on the contemporary female experience performed by an ensemble of four, under Erica Whyman’s direction, the piece has the uncanny ability to pick apart and toy with the language we use to express ourselves—the difference here being that the eye is firmly cast on the implications for those in society who have, for as long the company has existed, been oppressed by it.
Alice Birch’s indignant script—written in only three days—is saturated with sharp insights on the state of modern feminism. Most pertinent of these being that communication can be as restrictive as something like Shakespearean verse when you’re living in a society which has patriarchal power dynamics coded into its means of self-expression.
The text doesn’t simply diagnose problems though, it points towards the solution—or rather, the revolution.
Battle cries emerge from the scenes through droll projections, which command us amongst other things to “REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE. (INVERT IT)” and “REVOLUTIONIZE THE BODY. (MAKE IT SEXUALLY AVAILABLE. CONSTANTLY)”. Comic disbelief powers the shrewd and rambunctious humour in what is an often funny piece, making a mockery of the superficial progress we have made thus far. Because female oppression is systemic. The fight for liberation is taking place on scorched earth. Birch urges us to shatter the paradigm.
Leading the revolt, the cast are exceptional throughout. Emmanuella Cole in particular demonstrates truly impressive range, almost stealing the show at the offset in her brilliantly brazen inversion of domineering macho dirty talk.
Robert Boulter, Beth Park, Emma Fielding and Emmanuella Cole. Photo: Sally Jubb
Playing off Cole, Robert Boulter has a knack for conveying the emasculation of his various characters through very subtle shifts in body language. A quality which also feeds nicely into his scenes with Beth Park, who herself always managed to hit the sweet spot between absurdity and candour demanded by the script. Emma Fielding monologues as if she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, wringing the truth out of Birch’s words with remarkable dignity and grace.
Each of the thematic strands—whether to do with the commodification, sexualisation or marginalisation of women—are eventually pulled together in a fascinating look at a generational discord in the fight for equality. Though because of the heavy demands placed on the scene, proceedings begin to lack the focus which made the preceding insights so fresh.
It is a problem which effects the climactic instruction to the players to “GALVANISE” and begin the revolution. As the strands are tied into a knot, the chaos on stage is certainly a powerful evocation of the mess of contradictions that women must endure every day. However, the intellectual density actually blunts the impact, as the spectator is left racing to keep up.
Any messiness is nothing more than collateral damage though, because Birch makes you realise the magnitude of the battle ahead. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is peppered throughout with women apologising for what they’ve said but suppressed language is just a symptom of the larger problem: that, though women finally have a mouthpiece, society is still not listening.
I defy you not to listen to this.
Running time: 1 hr 10 mins (no interval)
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15), 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Friday 5 – Sunday 28 August 2016
Times vary; check website for details
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/revolt-she-said-revolt-again
Traverse website: http://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/
Company website: www.rsc.org.uk