TWO MAN SHOW Tobacco Factory Theatres at Circomedia

RashDash have brought Two Man Show to Circomedia in a production arising from a first-time collaboration between MAYK and the Tobacco Factory Theatres BEYOND programme. RashDash is a radical feminist company comprised of writers and performers Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen together with musician Becky Wilkie. Having triumphed last year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Two Man Show comes to Portland Square Bristol at the start of a nationwide tour. In a seventy-five-minute mash-up of song, dance and drama it takes a highly energetic and occasionally bewildering look at masculinity and patriarchy.  Things start quietly as the three women form a circle. Their long robes suggest that they are perhaps priestesses from some ancient cult, though their costumes are far too glittery for prehistoric times. When their mystic chanting tunelessly runs out of steam they embark on a miked-up, drum-punctuated lecture in which they explain that long ago there was no such thing as patriarchy. Male dominance apparently arose as the unfortunate consequence of our shift from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled farmers. The validity of this explanation is somewhat undermined by their style of delivery, for their voices are electronically distorted into hyper-feminine squeaks.  This sets the tone for the rest of the show.  Their message is serious, but it is conveyed entirely without solemnity in a startling variety of ways, often contradictory and always thought-provoking.

There are sequences of dance, sometimes fluidly balletic and sometimes boldly aggressive, and often performed partially or entirely naked.  The nudity may startle at first, but perhaps it can be seen as a liberating statement of self-confidence. The dances themselves seem to represent an attempt to deal with ideas that spoken language struggles to convey. Men created language, and women find it’s an inadequate medium for self-expression. This theme is further explored in a drama about two estranged and determinedly macho brothers, John and Dan. At first their awkward inability to communicate feelings is both comic and clichéd; they seem to be straight out of a second-rate soap opera and are surely there to be mocked.  But Greenland and Goalen give these sad individuals just enough humanity to rescue them from being two-dimensional stereotypes.  When their lack of emotional intelligence leads to a misunderstanding with tragic consequences, we care.

When Dan and John’s mini-drama concludes there comes an inventive twist. Abbi Greenland refuses to discard the role of John, angrily criticising the dancing, and condemning the performers for not using words, despite the fact that he has proved to be so hopeless at using words himself. But in a further twist Greenland absorbs much of his masculinity into her own character, becoming a loud, fast-talking, no-nonsense and highly assertive ‘man-woman’ with no time for soppy tenderness or sentimentality. In contrast, Helen Goalen remains content to retain a degree of traditional femininity, acknowledging that there are times when she likes being cared for by a bigger and stronger male. One of the strengths of Two Man Show is that it recognises that there is more than one way to be a feminist.

Some of the sequences in Two Man Show lack clarity and at times there’s a cheerful element of messy confusion. But taken all-in-all this is a highly entertaining show that succeeds in promoting a provocative, radically feminist view of the world without ever becoming stridently dogmatic.  There’s an acceptance that no one has all the answers, and the debate goes on.  Highly recommended.   ★★★★☆   Mike Whitton   14th September 2017

Photo Credit: Richard Davenport