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Roller review at the Barbican, London – ‘dynamic show about female power’

Rachel Mars, Nat Tarrab and company in Roller at the Barbican, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli Rachel Mars, Nat Tarrab and company in Roller at the Barbican, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
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Roller is a fervent, funny and touching show about female aggression. While asking questions about revolution and progress, it contrasts the pugnacity and potential for empowerment inherent in all-female roller derbies against the futile energies of violent fantasy.

Creators Rachel Mars and Nat Tarrab are wheeled into the space atop ladders shrouded in black fabric. Clutching folders and in rubbery, ninja turtle-esque tops, they’re bizarre high priestesses of rage and reform, simultaneously bloodthirsty and bureaucratic. They conjure a vision of feminist foment that might appear in the wet dreams of Daily Mail devotees.

Together they intone about “millennia of injustices” that they intend to “put right”. They let slip plans for taking down abusive captains of industry et al by means of acid, eyelid removal and scaffolding poles.

Mars and Tarrab’s humorously solemn double act is both ridiculous and powerful, relatable to anyone who’s ever been driven into a state of despair or apoplectic rage about the ravages of patriarchal oppression. Nonetheless they soon run into an ideological impasse about the actual place of violence in their proposed purge. How do exceptions get made? Issues of tyranny arise.

It’s a funny and thought-provoking look at the politics of change that’s counterpointed by the actions of a diverse cast of women and girls. A roller derby team, they busily take up the space, prepare the floor and psyche themselves up (individually and collectively) by means of song and dance. Unashamed and purposeful, they’re a wonderful, moving bunch to behold.

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Dynamic, combative show about female power has political urgency, poignancy and comic verve