Edinburgh Fringe 2016
This production feels like there’s a great play in there, just waiting to be unleashed, but somehow this production just doesn’t quite hit the mark. There’s some fine acting, great staging, but overall the production doesn’t do justice to the play. Worth seeing nonetheless for the play itself and for great performances all round.
The play’s the thing. Alice Birch’s play, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, staged at the Traverse by the Royal Shakespeare Company, is a brilliantly crafted commentary on language and how it upholds and creates how women are portrayed and treated in our society. A set of chairs at the back of the stage, stripe lines of light dividing them and the performers from one another, the set is simple and dramatic. From here, the actors step forward two at a time to enact scenes dissecting how we talk about sex, about marriage, work and family life. Each scene neatly pinpoints the absurdity of much of the narrative we use to talk about gender – how it both misrepresents and circumvents; each scene is played to its full comedic value. So far, so good. But then as the play moves from being a tidy contained thing to a furious ranting cascade which is boiling over at the edges, the production doesn’t follow and tries to keep it tidy when it’s crying out for messy.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about this production of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again – fine performances from all the actors, great staging, highly effective lighting and sound, some tight directing – and yet, somehow the overall direction lets it down. Individual scenes are directed well, but the overall direction/interpretation leaves the furious heart of the play weaker. Overplaying of the initial comic scenes make the final angry denouement unconvincing.
Each scene plays against a projected title urging us to revolt: Revolutionize the Language (Invert it), Revolutionize the Body (Make It Sexually Available Constantly), Revolutionize the World (Don’t Reproduce). Each of the cast – Emmanuella Cole, Robert Boulter, Beth Park and Emma Fielding – give fine individual performances that show the absurdity of much that we say or neglect to say. Each scene takes a normal enough scene – an initiation of sex, a marriage proposal, a family picnic – and takes it to its logical extremes by dissection of the language. Each normal narrative becomes beset by difficulty and impossible to see again as normal. Birch uses comedy to good effect but as the play’s writing gets more surreal, raw and out of control, the direction’s control and distance just don’t keep up.
Overall, it felt like a competent production with a blistering play just waiting to get out. Worth seeing for the writing and the performances, but the play’s raw and raging anger never gets the room it needs.