Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (Revolt) Is an hour long scream of rage from modern feminism. Alice Birch wrote the play in three days, inspired by the famous proclamation from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich ‘well behaved women rarely make history,’ and it is anything but well behaved.
First produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and premiering in 2014, Revolt is a series of vignettes; each structured around a different revolutionary slogan that address one of the inequalities faced by women in the 21st century.
‘Revolutionise The Language (Invert It)’ sees Gareth Reeves, the only man in the cast of five, attempt to seduce his partner by verbalising all the things he would like to do to her. ‘With me,’ she corrects. This starts an interesting back and forth where Sophie Ross counters Reeves’s dominating language by inverting it. She reimagines sex as something a woman is equally in control of and her description of dominating Reeve with her huge, powerful organ leaves him feeling awkward and discomforted. The scene got some laughs from the audience, a mix of humour and discomfort. Birch doesn’t let you get away with simply responding to the actors, she makes you question your responses. Why is the idea of a woman as subject articulating the ways she wants to perform sex on a man as object so uncomfortable, when the other way around is common?
Under the heading ‘Revolutionise The Work (Engage With It)’ Belinda McClory shines as a boss trying to comes to terms with her employee (Elizabeth Esguerra) requesting Mondays off work. This scene interrogates what it means for women to ‘have it all.’ Have we ultimately been duped into working harder than ever for less reward?
The standout performance is given by Sophie Ross in ‘Revolutionise The Body (Make It Sexually Available Constantly)’. What starts as a cute skit about a woman lifting her dress in the supermarket quickly becomes a painful to listen to treatise on avoiding assault. Ross opines that if you always want it, if you are always available for everyone, you can never be violated. My choice, she intones. My choice. A chilling spin on a phrase meant to liberate us.
The play builds to a frenetic pace and the last fifteen minutes are an assault on the senses. This final section becomes confused and overwhelming, intentionally so. The actors walk across the stage and into the spotlight to perform, then shed their costumes and characters at the side of the stage in full view of the audience, and re-enter the action in a different guise. Multiple storylines are happening at once and the actors begin to speak over one another.
As you become accustomed to the flashing lights and loud noises moments of understanding filter through and land with force. While Ming-Zhu Hii stalks across the stage wearing a sandwich board advertising hymens for sale and crying out like a market fruit and veg seller touting their wares, a scene is unfolding in the background. It’s hard to catch all the words but it becomes apparent a woman is reporting a burglary. The police officer questions whether her empty house is a lifestyle choice; did she ever have furniture in the first place? Why should we believe her? Then she offers the blood on her thighs as evidence and the penny drops. The faces of the women in the audience change from confused to understanding.
Revolt packs a lot of action into a short amount of time. The ensemble cast is strong and the staging well managed for a relatively small space. It is deceptively straight forward. The scenes are at face value straightforward enough, but the questions they raise stay with you. There is nothing ground-breaking about the feminism contained within it, but in many ways that is the most disturbing element of the whole thing. Why do women still have to fight against inequality so glaringly obvious and brutally unfair?
You won’t leave the theatre uplifted but you will leave it enraged. To echo the final line of the play ‘who knew that life could be so awful?’