Soho Theatre, London – until 4 January 2020
What is it? Ell Potter and Mary Higgins return with their second devised show to dance their way through a interrogation of masculinity, using almost 50 interviews of cis, transidentifying men.
What is it all about? Seemingly an homage to the old school ‘variety show’, FITTER sees Potter and Higgins dance, sing, and… gyrate… their way through 60 minutes of storytelling. We’e told at the beginning of the show that FITTER came about from the women being asked why there weren’t any men in their first devised show, HOTTER. They basically just didn’t want to spend much time with them, and to be totally honest, what exactly is there to unpack there?
What follows is a series of verbatim interviews, often cut to music, in which this assumption is interrogated. The men are asked whether they want to be ‘soft or hard’, about sex, wanking, crying and loneliness. The show takes a thematic, rather than narrative journey in masculinity, with the audience often playing catch up with the explosion of dance, song and energy thrown at us.
A lot of the comedy in the show comes from the words of the recorded interviews; one man responded to a question on body image with the notion that ‘having a body is like being the captain of a ship…and I didn’t even know I was on a ship’. But more than that, it is the women’s reactions to the words, and especially the movement pieces which accompany them which are truly brilliant, and pushed the comedy to its maximum potential.
It’’s tough to keep verbatim theatre active and dynamic, but Higgins and Potter continue to pull inventive concepts from their seemingly bottomless creative supply. There are moments when the women simply mouth recorded words, embodying the characters (done best when playing eight and 12-year0old brothers), but there is so much more than that; using exercise balls to physicalise aggressive male sexual energy, painting beards on one another, and a personal favourite, explaining the act of douching an arsehole through the medium of balletic interpretive dance.
Every moment is considered, every movement choreographed to perfection. Even the act of moving a wooden box, the only piece of set, is laden with meaning and significance as the girls heave and huff every time they move it around the stage, later revealing to laughs that it is so heavy because it is full of trauma’. However, the show’s hyperactive, abstract comedy is anchored by sobering confessionals, with Higgins and Potter taking turns to sit on the ‘trauma’ box and tell us about their most difficult and traumatising experiences with masculinity. It wouldn’t feel right, they say, to make a show about masculinity without putting these experiences in. Stripped back and clearly in pain, the two women hold each other’s hands as they try to understand men, and ultimately themselves.
How did it make me feel? I could watch Higgins and Potter dance around in neon power suits and cycling gear endlessly. Their double-act comedy mixed with genuine, real love was like watching magic on stage, and the soundtrack to the show (including the edited interviews) is probably the best I’ve heard in years. What doesn’t work quite so well are the moments of ‘naturalism’ between the women, where the pretence of the ‘show’ is dropped and a somewhat meta conversation is had about what bit they are going to do next. The true moments of connection proved the dynamic chemistry between Potter and Higgins, but the clearly scripted moments being presented as natural conversation feel slightly uncomfortable and out of place. Moreover, the ending feels somewhat anti-climatic; the words left to the oldest interviewee, a 102 year old man in a care home who says that his biggest wish is to have a girlfriend, so he won’t be so alone. This moment is certainly tender and poignant, but the choice to end the play on it leaves the audience feeling somewhat confused about the tone and message of the piece. With the women having revealed and unpacked so much during the 60 minutes, leaving on a note of isolation seems a disservice to the joy, silliness and understanding that has been built over the course of the show. Anything else? It must be mentioned that FITTER spoke to my boyfriend on a whole different level than it did to me. While I left feeling entertained and having enjoyed myself, he came out slightly misty eyed, and said that it had related to his sense of manhood far more realistically and sensitively than anything he’d seen before. It’s a testament to Higgins and Potter that a piece of ‘feminist theatre’, written by (and ostensibly for) women, can be so true and sensitive to the male experience. Maybe, that’s the secret. Maia x FITTER is playing at Soho Theatre until the 4th January 2020. If you like our reviews and want to support this blog feel free to buy any of us a virtual coffee here!