L’Origine du monde by Gustave Coubert in 1886. Isn’t it great?
When we were in school they used to show us a video of a group of school kids on a tube train. One of the kids would be on a different carriage and encourage the others to join them there. So one by one they would jump over from their carriage to the next, leaping over the gap between them and being pulled through by their friends. Then one of the kids, I think it was a girl, goes to jump but she’s nervous. Her friends yell at her and she is pressured to jump, and then there’s a sort of crackling and crashing and the video changes to one of a watermelon being squashed into thousands of squelchy little pieces as it gets trapped between the tube carriages and smashes to the ground, the tube racing on ahead. That watermelon was meant to be that girl’s head.
Watching that video is what the script of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. feels like.
Revolt. is a piece of fiercly strong feminist theatre that would have much of Twitter exploding with calls of feminazis. Revolt. is about how we talk about sex, gender, and consent. It’s about how we deal with women, and how we deal with being women. It started its life at the RSC in 2014 with a series of other plays that had the provocation: ‘well behaved women rarely make history’.
So I’m going to talk a bit about women, and consent, and being well-behaved.
A few weeks ago I had sex (woah IKR- I swear this gets more interesting). Then – for various reasons that are explained probably too openly in the link below- decided I didn’t want to have sex and asked him to stop. More than once. He did not. I saw, and still see, this as a form of assault because it was non-consensual. I wrote something about it, and it was clear that not everyone agreed with me. I was sent a few messages.
Which was fun.
But that’s not the point, I’m not the point of this. The point is- yes, it’s a tricky subject, and yes, what happened to me “could have been worse”. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay. If that’s okay, where do you decide draw the line? Is it only not okay if the girl is crying? If she’s bleeding? If she’s shouting for help?
What Revolt. does is say this isn’t okay.
Revolt. reveals the language of control between genders that might make us think these things are okay. Because if we have an unbalanced language we use for sex, how can we expect people to know that those words translated into physical actions aren’t okay too? When I said stop, I was no longer a person having sex, I was an object being had sex with. By inverting the language and switching up how we talk about sex on stage, Revolt stands up and says, look, do you see these things aren’t acceptable?
Which I really needed to hear.
So perhaps this production will mean more to me than others, but there are plentiful reasons why I think it is still an inspiring play for a wide audience.
‘I want to make Love to you
(This article on the patriarchy of sex is great too.)
I hadn’t read Revolt. before seeing it, but interviewed director Erica Whyman for AYT about it when it premiered. (I particularly remember because Lyn Gardner retweeted it and that was very exciting.) In that interview, Whyman said this:
“On the one hand [this provocation is] an interesting thought about women now, and whether we’re still expected to behave differently to men, and whether we have to behave badly in order to get noticed. But the other provocation is that their plays don’t have to be well behaved and can experiment with form.”
Birch’s script does both of these things. It swears and spins and screams and says this which is stunning:
‘Lie down and become available. Constantly. Want to be entered. Constantly. It cannot be an Invasion, if you want it. They Cannot Invade if you Want It. Open your legs and throw your dress over your head, pull your knickers down and want it and they can invade you no longer.’
The script also has a form similar in style -when looking at it on a page- to the work of Sarah Kane. The power of Revolt. undoubtedly lies in it’s script and its revolutionary call to celebrate vaginas in a way that manages to make the audience rock with laughter. It twists the norm and makes you reconsider the way you speak, and what you expect from others.
So then, the production. It has ups and downs. It’s like it chokes you and holds you up against a wall and you can’t breathe and then suddenly drops you, runs away to get a Sainsbury’s meal deal or something, then comes back a while later and picks you back up.
Everyone in Edinburgh is talking about Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat, the play about sex and gender with lots of on-stage fingering. (I haven’t seen it but everyone who has is *very* keen to discuss). Next to Triple Threat, it feels like little else at the Fringe could be called radical, but the staging of Revolt.– which by it’s very nature, and the provocation it’s responding to, should be radical- doesn’t even get close to claiming the word.
(But it’s on at the Traverse so perhaps that’s not unexpected? Or is that unfair on the Traverse? But that’s a whole different conversation.).
The staging for the first few sections of the script revolve around beams of light, which I think look pretty cool, but apparently this has been done a lot before, better. It puts the focus on the words, the subtleties of action, the swing of a chair or the writhe of a hip. Anyway, I like it.
But the light beams aren’t used very much and afterwards, any sense of coherent style evaporates. The script suggests no props should be used but Whyman’s staging disobeys this, bringing on all the objects the script vaguely refers to- watermelons and bluebells and potatoes rolling around the stage- and it feels a bit GCSE.
In Birch’s script she has headings, great headings like:
REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE (INVERT IT).
which they project onto a massive screen in this production. It feels a little too easy. Shouldn’t we have to guess these, aren’t they sort of stage directions rather than words we should see or hear?
Then there’s the ending. It was building well, the cast were saying things that made so much sense. Then they laid the table and suddenly became a grandma, mum and child and what they were saying didn’t seem to mix with what they were doing. The passion had suddenly disappeared and it wasn’t weird enough to be swept up in nor naturalistic enough to believe. I’m still not sure what we were meant to think of that scene. Finally all of the individual sections are thrown together in a conglomeration of cries and rants and a spinny chair. It feels thoughtless, it’s simultaneously not messy enough and too messy, it’s organised fun. Watermelons are smashed all over the place and I don’t understand why, and all I can think about is that video of the girl’s head as the watermelon as it’s smashed between the tube carriages.
I want to leave the theatre feeling invigorated, wild, like I do after the first two scenes (particularly the first), but instead I’m a little confused, a little deflated, a little unsatisfied. I hope I get to see this play again in the future in different hands, and perhaps those final scenes will make sense to me. But I’m very grateful to have seen this play, because I needed something bigger than another person to look at me and say it isn’t your fault, that’s not okay.
Revolt. She said. Revolt again. And again please.
(Seen on 17/08/16 at the Traverse at the Edinburgh Fringe)