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What If Women Ruled the World? review at Mayfield, Manchester – ‘muddled and fragmented’

A scene from What If Women Ruled the World? at Mayfield, Manchester. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Apocalypse is a running theme at this year’s Manchester International Festival. While Party Skills for the End of the World stages a post-apocalyptic blowout, What if Women Ruled the World? uses catastrophe as an opportunity to do things differently.

Opening with a chaotic, compressed version of Dr Strangelove, Yael Bartana’s film and performance project turns the movie’s conclusion on its head. What if women, rather than men, were in charge of re-establishing the human race in the aftermath of disaster?

The premise is compelling, but its execution is messy and disjointed. It’s somehow both too structured and not structured enough: the discussion of the invited female experts is forced into a restrictive form, while the various individual parts of the show – including odd little monologues and video interludes – hang awkwardly together. The scenario, meanwhile, is muddled, swinging back and forth between real-life global challenges and the fictional Armageddon occupied by the performers.

The experts themselves put forward sensible and rigorously researched solutions to the world’s problems. Suggestions range from a crackdown on tax havens to more sustainable use of natural resources. In the hands of these women – who on the opening night include feminist writer Natasha Walter and virologist Dr Marion Koopmans – the world looks pretty safe.

But then why not just put these five women on a panel? Despite the best efforts of the cast, it’s often unclear what the performative flourishes are adding. It feels like a waste of both an intriguing idea and a line-up of fascinating women.

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Urgent political discussion let down by a muddled and fragmented structure