Two Man Show
Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland and Becky Wilkie
RashDash and Northern Stage in association with Soho Theatre
On 09 February 2017
Review by James Ballands
On 21 January, millions of women marched in protest against President Trump and his reprehensible views on minorities and women. His election has struck fear into the hearts of feminists across the world—from Washington DC to Budapest, from Cape Town to Sydney—and there is mounting panic that women will suffer under his presidency, as evidenced by his recent legislation on abortion. Many of us are still dumbfounded that the leaked recording in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” did not end his political hopes there and then.
Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland are RashDash, a company devoted to creating visceral and thought-provoking theatre, and their latest piece, Two Man Show, could not be timelier. Over the course of 75 breakneck minutes, Greenland and Goalen—in collaboration with musician Becky Wilkes—explore masculinity and patriarchy in a production that brings together dance, music and drama. The result is nothing short of spectacular.
The piece begins with the three performers dressed in sparkly retro-futuristic attire reminiscent of David Bowie and Flash Gordon (1980). Goalen and Greenland deliver a brief lecture on gender relations across the centuries, explaining how women were once viewed as goddesses because of their ability to bear children and how this led men—in the spirit of self-preservation (and, possibly, envy)—to seek dominance over them. However, Two Man Show is not a po-faced lecture on the iniquities of men, but rather a fun and playful exploration of the ways we think about gender.
In the most naturalistic parts of the show, Goalen and Greenland play estranged brothers (Dan and John), who are reunited by their father’s terminal illness. Emotionally reserved at first, they begin to reconnect in the days before their father’s death, but there are resentments bubbling beneath the service. What could have been a trite depiction of male emotional dysfunction becomes a surprisingly moving mini-drama, with both performers fully inhabiting the roles without becoming parodies of masculine behaviour.
These scenes are intercut with sequences of ritualised dance in which Goalen and Greenland throw themselves around the stage in various states of undress. The physicality of their dancing, which involves a series of daring lifts, is deeply impressive. The choreography is also witty at times, particularly in the scene where Greenland manipulates Goalen into a series of iconic poses to demonstrate how masculine strength and feminine allure have been enshrined as the twin ideals of mankind throughout the ages.
Two Man Show flirts with a variety of different ideas and points of view but does not settle on a single one; the performers appreciate that any attempt to specify how men and women should behave will be inherently flawed and reductive. This is borne out by a starling scene near the end of the production where Greenland becomes possessed by the John character and berates Goalen for criticising men without being able to articulate how they should behave. Rather than undermining what has gone before, this scene highlights the complexity of the issue.
Two Man Show is a giddily entertaining piece of work. Bold, anarchic, generous-spirited and fizzing with invention. I loved it.