‘Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again’ was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and written in only three days by Award-winning British playwright and screenwriter, Alice Birch. Born in the Malvern Hills, Birch spent the first five years of her life living in a commune at Birchwood Hall, after which she was given the surname Birch by her alternative parents.
At the age of only 25 yrs. Birch was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn prize, an award recognising female playwrights. Published in 2016, this experimental, wild unconventional play was awarded the George Devine Award, for Most Promising New Playwright. Birch’s screenplay for ‘Lady Macbeth’ also won the 2017 British Independent Film Award for best screenplay. Birch was also nominated for a BAFTA.
Never scared of a challenge, the Murdoch Performing Group, a student-run theatre company are presenting this punch-in-the-guts play – an assessment unit – at the Nexus Theatre (near car park 3), in the grounds of Murdoch University at 90 South Street, Murdoch.
This 75-minutes audacious production for adults runs from Wednesday 28th October until Saturday 31st. with curtain up at 7.00 pm. All seats are at the bargain price of $15.00. There is NO ticket office and no handling of cash or credit cards. Please buy your tickets online at www.trybooking.com/BLKZV.
The Scene: The UK. The time starts in 1970 and works up to 2000.The Set: The style of the sofas suggests the era of each scene. The floor is painted in narrow light blue and scarlet stripes (male and female?) from the stage apron to the rear wall. The black side walls have been painted with three-metre white stars, onto which comic book artwork and feministic ideals are projected (projection design by Emma Sami).
Set Construction: Tim Brain and John King. These two gentlemen have spent most of the lockdown refurbishing and repairing the whole theatre. Well done.
Lighting design: Tim Brain employed quite a few spotlights and the actors hit the mark each time – a rare occurrence!
Sound design and operation: John King, with music design by Louis Howe and Celeste Chinnery.
Stage management and cast herder: Bee Tandy was assisted by Tia Annandale, Thomas Wendt and Zenna Newman.
The cast are seated around the stage listening to the mellifluous tones of a singer (Nadia Scurria) and a guitarist (Louis Howe). The stage manager shouts, ‘Beginners please’ and the stage empties. A young man with a dark suit and brightly coloured makeup (Cooper Gray) enters with a script in hand. He talks romantically to his girlfriend (Tiarn Hutton) but soon this turns to lewd suggestions and sexual harassment. Feeling uncomfortable with the female actor’s inferior dialogue, the girlfriend asks to change her script with the man.
As a girl is walking her panting dog (Jed Cowper – hilarious), a bride, still in her wedding dress (Maiken Kruger) enters with her new groom. Already there is trouble with division of the domestic tasks. Two dancers in pink (Abby Varani, Shannen Moulton) spell out in their routines the aggression that has taken place against the woman. A cast member (Luciana Kember) perks up and shouts out her opinion, closely followed by an audience member (Emma Jo Williams) who agrees.
When a supermarket employee (Rosalie Schneider) asks her boss (Aaron Hamilton) why the men staff get a higher hourly rate of pay, she is sent back to the shop floor; there she finds a partly dressed woman, obsessed with smashing watermelons (Celeste Chinnery). The janitor (David Moody) is called in to clean up the melon mess.
A woman (Zoe Hubbard) is checking her Bechdel–Wallace test to see how women are fairing against the dominating males. Outside the shop, a policeman (Tyler Isard) is tackling a demonstrator (Aiden Atthowe) who is carrying an objectionable sign.
Dinah (Stephanie Beckham) takes her shy and withdrawn daughter, Agnes (Tia Annandale) to see her heartless Grandmother (Maiken Kruger). The visit is cold and fruitless.
The playwright has devised a system to tackle the poor treatment of women from four directions, such as revolution, destruction of language and even the destruction of society.
The section called Revolt represents the roar of young and angry feminists in their 20s, grappling with the realities of the world for the first time. Sadly, the ferocity delivered was unconvincing, even though men and women are far from equal in society. Birch admits that Revolt is sometimes confused, but even in the script her envisaged rebellion does not always come through clearly.
This play means to display the imbalance of patriarchy and feminism. The black comedy element, with many belly-laughs is meant to emphasise the tragic inequity between men and women in society. The author uses adjectives like Intense, Frantic with the performances meant to blur. The play is crammed with anecdotes and tiny monologues, expressing life’s distrustful and existential style. So many feminist plays exhibit blatant anger and rage and in doing so can lose half the audience’s sympathy or support. However, Birch’s clever dialogue states the case strongly, upending the debate in a manner that wins the support of both the men and women in the audience.
The overall design co-ordination was by Allison Bell, who mentored Emma Sami, Tiarn Hutton, Declan Campbell, Aiden Atthowe and Zoe Hubbard.
Costume design was by Aaron Hamilton, Rosalie Schneider, Shannen Moulton with Agnes’ magnificent dress being a cross between Carmen Miranda and Frida Kahlo.
The inventive makeup design was by Emma Jo Williams, Luciana Kember and Abby Varani. With a large cast the need for well-planned movement and choreography was necessary. Well done Xarna Rappold, mentored by Anna Brockway.
This is considered one of the plays of the decade. The writer states ‘This play should not be well behaved’, sadly I felt that it was too well-behaved.
Directors David Moody and Maiken Kruger ensured that the acting was of a high quality. With the cast of around 20 being on stage the whole time, the directors retained full control with the diction and movement top class, but I expected something much more visceral. In other productions the audience have left the auditorium angry and even in tears. I left sympathetic but not guilty of being male or embarrassed by any attitudes that males had to women fifty years ago. I hasten to add that I am ashamed but not because of this play. It is an admirable production but just missing on many of the gut punches. Celeste Chinnery’s naked watermelon customer speech was the nearest to meeting the desired mood, with Dinah’s attack on her mother also most moving.
Great entertainment, I am sure the fire and vitriol will come as the season continues. Well Done. Everyone should receive a good pass mark.