Locker Room Talk review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘provocative look at toxic masculinity’
Oh, it’s horrible. It’s so horrible. It’s so grimly, wincingly, cringingly, stomach-churningly, infuriatingly, terrifyingly horrible.
Galvanised by Donald Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” remark, and by the brevity of the public discourse surrounding its surfacing last October, Gary McNair has been interviewing men far and wide. He’s recorded their chatter about women, sifted through it, and skillfully edited it down into a 75-minute piece of verbatim event theatre.
This is Trump’s apparently innocuous “locker room talk”, a splurge of conversation snippets, said by men, recorded by McNair, and spoken aloud on stage by four women, sans comment. Bigotry in a vacuum. Prejudice in a petri dish.
Under Orla O’Loughlin’s direction, Maureen Carr, Jamie Marie Leary, Joanna Tope and Rachael Spence stand by microphones and repeat words relayed into their ears via headphones: stutters, stammers, nervous chuckles and all. It’s more of a provocation than a play. An open-ended question, inviting discussion.
Here’s a five-a-side team trading sexist jokes. Here’s a New York taxi driver who thinks 89% of men regularly grab pussy. Here’s a bloke on a stag night who thinks feminism is a very toxic ideology. Here’s a student who thinks all the birds on his campus are slags. Here’s a group of doctors comparing ratings systems. Is she a six or a seven? Would you smash her? A paper-bag job or a plastic-bag job?
Despite a vague air of manipulation, there’s no doubt McNair has created a shocking piece of theatre on a number of levels. It’s shocking because some of it is genuinely shocking. But it’s also shocking because some of it isn’t shocking at all. And because some of it – only some of it – is funny. Or, more accurately, because society is still conditioned to snigger at some of it, no matter how appalling, how insidious we know it is.
Decontextualising these words and presenting them through the mouths of women has an extraordinary effect. Not only does McNair find absurdity in the pseudo-intellectual justification, the relentless macho posturing, and the lazy, ignorant sexism of it all, he also gradually exposes a widespread culture of toxic masculinity and misogyny. Here’s a teenager who knows he’ll be called gay if he objects to any of it. Here are some primary school children who think girls wash dishes and look after children.
No solutions are offered, although the thorny post-show discussion – a feature after every performance – did air possibilities for affirmative action. All McNair does is deftly but forcefully compel the audience to face up to a deep-rooted and damaging societal issue, one that is too often glossed over with a grimace.
Because it’s just banter. It’s just locker-room talk. Right?