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Two Man Show review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘exhilarating attack on patriarchy’

Scene from Two Man Show at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: The Other Richard
Scene from Two Man Show at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: The Other Richard

Gender feels like the key theme of this year’s fringe. RashDash’s Two Man Show is one of many pieces looking at masculinity and femininity, patriarchy, the construction of gender, the costumes people wear – or, in this case, don’t.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, by Alice Birch – who collaborated with RashDash on We Want You to Watch at the National Theatre – is on at the Traverse, and Rachael Clerke, Camilla Whitehill and Lucy McCormick are among the artists writing about gender, singing about it, shouting about it.

Two Man Show feels in some ways like the piece Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen have been building towards for some time. It knits their trademark physicality with thumping music and an interrogative quality about what it is they’re trying to do and say with their work. This show is an argument-starter, a foot-stamper and a tit-bouncer – exhilarating, furious, polyphonous, frustrating, unabashed.

It begins with the performers dressed up like goddesses. They provide us with a potted history of shifting gender roles across the centuries. They talk about dominance and chastity, ownership and the limitations of language. There is music – loud music, supplied live by Becky Wilkie.

Goalen and Greenland do that RashDash thing where they pick each other up and heft and drag each other around the stage, an action that is at times tender and at times violent. Here they do it with no clothes on. First they are topless, then completely naked. Their bodies are strong but it’s clear there are other forms of power-play at work as we watch them. They put one another on pedestals and pose one another, like artists posing their models.

These episodes of music and movement are interspersed with scenes performed in a more traditional way in which they play two estranged brothers, Dan and John, two very different men reunited as their ailing father nears the end of his life.

The piece keeps rebuffing any issues its audience might have with its form and artistic choices. It’s alert to its own processes, always one step ahead. It addresses all the questions and criticisms that might be thrown at it, and does so in a way that’s not at all tedious but witty and intelligent.

After doing all this, they blur things further. Greenland speaks as a man, using her ‘John’ voice, and she’s angry and fed up with all this shit about gender, the changing expectations, the conflicting messages.

She gets into an argument with Goalen and they both say things that are persuasive, recognisable and difficult to admit. She also delivers a brilliantly contradictory rant about labels, pressures and conformity, about feeling thoroughly pissed off with the tools we have to talk about all this.

This is not a show with a clear message but thank God for that because none of this stuff is clear, not now. It’s messy and unsteady, confusing and confounding, and this show is the perfect reflection of that.

Verdict
Smart, potent and exhilaratingly physical attack on patriarchy
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