Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again feels like it was inspired by the Me Too movement. But it pre-dates that, having been a hit for the RSC in 2014. It is telling that the subject matter is still relevant.
This is an angry and uncompromising play. It’s comprised of a series of episodes with different characters in each. We are teased to find patterns and connections by references to bluebells and watermelons throughout, but they are, like the bunches of flowers, left to wilt. And when I hear watermelons my mind goes to Dirty Dancing. But perhaps not putting baby in the corner has some distant, if muted, connection to this piece
If there is a common thread it’s the dissection of language to expose how it undermines or ignores the female perspective in an alarmingly casual way. The sketches begin in comic mode as a couple, we assume returning from a date, engage in verbal foreplay. His attempts at seduction are each deconstructed by her forensic analysis of his choice of words. Such as objecting to having her dress ‘peeled’ off: ‘I’m not a potato!’
The second scene has a woman asking not to work Monday’s because she wants to sleep more. The man (someone from HR, her boss?) offers ever more tempting inducements like free cake or exercise classes or happy hour at the roof-top bar on top of the office to keep her at work. As with the previous scene, he fails to understand what he’s being asked. Offering more bribes for someone so they don’t have to leave the office even to eat or sleep or exercise is not a solution for someone who wants to spend less of their life at work.
As the scenes progress they become darker, the characters less connected to each other. The structure becomes more vague until eventually even language itself collapses as characters talk across each other and at the audience, leaving us no chance to follow a thread, but just catching key words. This makes the later scenes somewhat less effective. You find yourself stepping out of the moment and thinking about how hard you are working to keep tuned in to the story.
The play is uncompromising in its message that, despite what we may experience ourselves and what legislation says ought to happen, there are deep-rooted societal barriers to women having an equal voice.
The large cast assembled for this production by Blue Stocking Effigy is impressive. The Space never allows any actor to get away with anything except the most committed of performances. It’s altogether too intimate for that. Fortunately this group are all completely on top of their game, clearly supporting and engaging with each other in focused and passionate playing. This is just the kind of piece which is so well suited to The Space.
Whatever your personal position on the issues raised here, you’ll find this an arresting and rewarding piece of theatre which boldly challenges established norms and leaves you with no choice but to think about your own approach, language and behaviour.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again is at The Space until 2 February 2020.