Two Man Show is packed with energy. It is a mass of bodies colliding, aesthetics unravelling and identity politics exploding. It’s a bold show where virtuosity and showmanship stand side by side with sincerity; where fake muses stand on fake plinths to pose for fake male gazes, and there’s drumming and guitar-playing and tutus and goddess costumes.
Helen Goalen, Abbi Greeland and Becky Wilkie play with voice, narrative and form, jumping from a lecture on the entrenched histories of the patriarchy to a gig, movement sequences and a play within a play. This is where the show’s exploration of masculinity and its relationship to identity politics is hidden, and it’s also where the theme starts to leak into the rest of the performance – where gendered bodies become bodies that speak and are malleable and fluid, but somewhat imbalanced by the questions they’re presenting to us.
What is most striking about Two Man Show, however, is the politics of its feminism, which consider the intrinsic problematics of theatrical form. Two Man Show engages in two parallel process: one is thematic, in which patriarchy itself is thrown about in relation to various social and artistic histories. The movement sequences that intersect fragments of the show belong to the realm of virtuosity – but they slowly erase our associations of moving female bodies with beauty and change it to bodies that author – a kind of reclaiming of virtuosity from the pretty to the powerful. The process enables us to identify, then confronts us with the simplicity of our identification.
The other is formal, in which the domestic and the public collapse onto each other. Two Man Show doesn’t position itself in relation to feminist shows that seek alternative theatrical languages (despite, of course, doing that intrinsically), instead it positions itself in relation to theatrical histories in which women are represented solely as inhabitants of private or domestic spaces (think: A Doll’s House; Yerma; Hedda Gabler, most of the Naturalist playwrights, a significant portion of all theatre history ever, etc).
This is what makes Two Man Show so important. It brings identity politics to theatrical form in a powerful way. It doesn’t seek to delineate a space that permits its feminism, but uses its position to flesh out a potent critique on the apparatus of representation – and the position of women as both its subjects and authors.
There’s no scaffolding you can climb to get through the show; things add up and fall apart. There’s movement, aesthetics, dialogue, demarcation. Acting and performing are thrown into one, and bodies smash into each other. It’s a loud, angry show with an incredible energy that blasts through many circuits at once. And its affective qualities – loudness, anger, frustration, care – are both in striking difference with its aesthetics – shiny capes and tutus, show lights and a lot of dressing up and down – and its narrative journeys. And, most importantly, the self lost in representation, in gendered frames of discussion, and found again hanging off question marks. There is a whole lot of feeling in watching Two Man Show: identification, challenge, positioning, judgment. It is, in itself, a way of structuring feeling.
Two Man Show says as much about the context of its presentation, as it does about languages of representation. For a show so packed with affect, with anger and interest and curiosity, it lingers between its concerns with confidence and trepidation. It measures its politics, but navigates its material carefully.
Two Man Show is on until 1st October 2016 at the Soho Theatre. Click here for more details.