This review was first published in October 2016 in Clean Conception here.
Looking at the notes I made on Two Man Show, there’s a big, juicy word that stands out from the rest of the handwritten-in-the-half-dark mess. I’d written“FANTASTIC!!!” (sic, but with three underlines not one — sadly you can’t show so much unstructured excitement on Word). Three exclamation marks, three underlines, and in caps. Clearly not the most profound of the ideas that crossed my mind, but pretty obviously a dominating one. Two Man Show really was fantastic. It was bloody awesome. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a woman and it was a “feminist” play – a tag some have given it which unfairly reduces this multi-faceted, dynamic show to a one-dimensional purpose.
The show opens with three women singing beautifully a capella. N.B – this is talent #1. Then BAM, the stage transforms into a rock show, as one of the three jumps behind a guitar and a drum kit and the other two grab booming microphones. Hello, talent #2. They’re going to tell us a little story, they say, about the History of the Patriarchy. If this sounds like it’s going to turn into a whiney rant, and you’re put off, don’t be. It was brilliant. And it wasn’t whiney, or ranty, or boring – it was witty and clever and strong. We’re introduced to talent #3.
Narrating a quick little history of mankind, Abbi and Helen tell the story of how way back when, when livestock farming was first conceived, it dawned on men that women were actually of more value than them in the act of procreation. You needed lots of women to make lots of babies, but only one man to sire them. As procreation was still the main purpose of human life at that point, these men felt very uneasy at the idea of being reduced to the human equivalent of a couple of stud bulls for hundreds of cows. As Abbi and Helen aptly put it, they feared being just an “essential penis”. And as we know, you don’t actually need that many essential penises. So, whaddyaknow, they created The Patriarchy, hoping through suppression that no one would ever cotton on to the facts of life.
The two then jumped into a different sequence, acting as two brothers dealing with their dying, incontinent father. They’re also mainly nude for these parts. For the majority of the play, really. But it’s the talent the two have that shocks more than the nudity. They are able to flit in and out of character or swap gender at the twang of a guitar string. The two brothers are both complex, if a little predictable, characters – although it is interesting to depict men forced into the role of a carer, and it adds another dimension to the gender debate of the show. One brother is the successful yet estranged golden-child with some serious daddy issues. The other is the fucked-up failure, who probably has the bigger heart and who has been wiping up his dad’s shit for the last year.
The natural intensity of this script and the emotional force of its topic is saved from becoming overexposed by interspersed dance sequences. Aloha – talent #4. Abbi and Helen – singers, actresses, and now dancers — do so in aching unison. The power behind it is completely transfixing. They move and perform as though they have done so every day since birth. They mainly do this in the nude too, and this isn’t just to shock, or to be controversial, or to be all “Ooo-look-at-us-women-ok-with-their-bodies-let’s-free-the-nip”. It just works. It makes sense. It’s bare, and what they’re saying is bare and deserves to be delivered without anything getting in the way of its interpretation. The nudity almost removes the gender view-finder we subconsciously look through. It feels more natural than most nudity I have ever seen in theatre. Of course, as there is throughout the show, there is humour here too — particularly when they whip off their pants with a theatrical “Ta-da!”.
My favourite bit came at the end, when the two deliver hugely impressive monologues. Abbi’s is a monolith of force and power and everything “manly” — she spits and shouts (yet with impeccable diction that doesn’t drop a word) and is everything you think of a Strong Independent Woman being. Helen then sits down on stage and asks us to hang on for a second. Sometimes, she says, I do actually want to be looked after, and I do want the man I’m with to be larger than me. I want to feel small, and I want to wear pink, and I want to twirl around like a fairy, and I don’t want to shout or scream, I want to be soft and delicate. And it’s great. Because it pulls the play back from solely saying that women need to fight back from this repression and be more “man”. This isn’t the case. It doesn’t matter if you want to have a pint with the lads, or you’d rather paint your nails with the girls. Or do both at the same time. Or one on Monday, and one on Tuesday. Neither is more or less “strong” than the other. Just because these words associated with dominance and power and strength are all associated with men, doesn’t mean that typically “feminine” qualities are any less strong. For me it highlighted the trap that too many fall into. Yelling blue murder if someone offers you a seat or opens the door for you, does more to hurt the cause than promote it. Not every woman can scream and shout and get nude and dance on stage and have a thousand times the power of the average man. And not every woman wants too. But it doesn’t matter, because it is the choice to be what we want that counts.
Go and watch this show. Not just because it is a necessary and hugely entertaining piece of theatre that shoves a fist up to the patriarchy. And not just because it will make you proud to be, or know, a woman. It’s just awesome. It celebrates both genders, and the highlights and pitfalls of both. It is boiling over with talent, and I don’t think there’s a single person who wouldn’t benefit from seeing it. Due to huge demand, it’s coming back with a tour in 2017, so I’m clearly not the only person raving loony about it.