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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

My Gender Bender Weekend: On Stage in London

March 13, 2017
At the weekend, Dora Hemming saw two theatrical productions. One was at Soho Theatre with a couple of like-minded girlfriends and the other was at The National with her middle-aged parents and uncle. Both had her discussing gender politics until she was blue in the face.

TWO MAN SHOW

‘Two Man Show’ by Rash Dash was an eclectic mix of song, dance and performance. It stars Abbie Greenland, Helen Goalen and Becky Wilkie and was a Fringe First Winner 2016. I can see why. To begin with we are given a history lesson (which we can trust because they tell us they know everything), then the women strip to their boxers and become John and Dan – two very awkward brothers with a dying father.

This powerful piece gets up in your face and spits that gender is contradictory, gender is complicated and there are stereotypes of gender that need to be liberated. It points out that the language we use to discuss ourselves as women is completely manmade. Handily I have just read a piece by Hélène Cixous so I can go into a little more detail about this. Cixous says that ‘writing has been run by a libidinal and cultural – hence political, typically masculine – economy’ and ‘woman has never her turn to speak’. Women punished themselves and felt guilty for writing –  in the same way they masturbated in secret – which means all of history has been written by males using male language.

So what do we do about that? The interjection of dance pieces is beautiful and go a little way in expressing what language cannot. Helen and Abbie mould each other into shapes, hit their chests like some kind of Haka and are lifted to the ceiling. But Abbie, in her ‘John voice’ asks what’s the point? What does Helen want her to do about it? Helen doesn’t know. Why should she know?

Abbie has an incredible and powerful speech as ‘manwoman.’ She wants to take up space, she wants to be fought for it, she wants, literally, to run around the room swinging a microphone, daring anyone to get close to her. But, in a representation of female frustration, Helen wants to be quiet and pretty and float around the room. And why shouldn’t she? My friend commented that she saw herself in both women – one was who she was and one was who she wanted to be, and I think that is exactly the point Rash Dash were making.

 

TWELFTH NIGHT

Simon Godwin’s ‘Twelfth Night’ was a highly entertaining show with an excellent set, fabulous musical accompaniment, a working car and a motorbike. The outstanding Tamsin Grieg starred as ‘Malvolia’ the female Malvolio (my mother was excited to see Debbie from The Archers in the flesh) and ‘Smack the Pony’ comic actor, Doon Mackichan, as a female Feste. Early on, we were treated to a reference to BBK’s ‘Too Many Man’ (in this case ‘three merry men’) which I think about three audience members (plus me) got.

This version of ‘Twelfth Night’ suggests that gender is just a performance. The characters simply cannot tell when a female is acting as a male. Viola slips easily into her role as ‘Cesario’ by a mere adjustment of the swagger in her walk. The change in gender of Feste and Malvolio does not affect the coherence of the piece. In fact, there was an added depth as ‘Malvolia’ becomes an awkward, conservative, unintentionally funny woman transformed by the unshackling of her love for another of her sex. As an audience, we laughed heartily as she shed her conservative pantsuit for a Madonna-esque bustier with nipple tassels but, later, we looked on in sheepish silence as she descended into madness brought on by the appalling treatment she suffers under the hands of the other ‘comic’ characters. In this production, comic cruelty is given homophobic undertones and our love for the wickedly funny Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria is severely tested.

Olivia doesn’t know she’s falling in love with a woman and Orsino, mistakenly (or not?) has a full on snog with a man. Of course, Shakespeare comes to their rescue, handily providing a twin brother and sister who are so alike Olivia and Orsino can simply swap. However, my theatre companions and I were left thinking, did they have to? What is a man? What is a woman? Is gender just an act we choose to play?

Unfortunately, ‘Two Man Show’ has come to the end of its run. But if you ever get a chance to see Rash Dash, definitely go for it.

Twelfth Night at the National is on until 13th May with £18 tickets still available.