Two Man Show
Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland, Becky Wilkie
Rash Dash, Northern Stage, Soho Theatre
From 11 October 2016 to 13 October 2016
Review by Andrew Edwards
The award-winning traverse format production comes straight from Fringe First success at Edinburgh this Summer. It’s a three-woman show performed mostly by Helen Goalen and Abi Greenland with assistance and music from and by Becky Wilkie.
They are deconstructing masculinity or perhaps perceived notions of it and at the same time considering femininity too. Helen and Abi alternate between dancing in various stages of undress and full nudity and adopting the personae of two brothers, Dan and John.
This duo are in a difficult place as they wait for their unseen father to take his last breath and beyond. They are very stressed and demonstrate all the tensions of sibling rivalries and the avoidance of directly expressing feelings. They verbally spar and appear to be talking about the inconsequential things of life as it’s easier. They find it very difficult to embrace or touch each other at all.
This may be fair comment as a piece of drama about two specific straight males but as a gay man this reviewer has experience of men who can emote perfectly effectively.
Of course as skilfully performed by Abi and Helen, they are women pretending to be men so there are various frames in operation.
The piece begins with a very loud and quite shouty historical lecture about patriarchy through the ages and this leads to a quite entertaining heavy rock song. All the women have very strong and beautiful voices and the harmonies throughout the 70 minutes are among the best sequences in the piece.
Lest the few men in the audience feel too alienated by this tirade, we are told that we have nothing to fear even though we are also destroyers.
Of the two male characters, Dan played by Helen seems the more anxious with an underlying anger and menace which does eventually spill over into violence. It is a clever idea that whereas when they dance as women they show increasing amounts of nudity when they are the two lads they are covered.
The dancing develops into playing with notions of posing and how an audience looks at a naked woman. Abi treats Helen as a doll and classically poses her and then with very subtle changes alters to more titilatory poses. This is brilliantly effective as it completely deflates any voyeuristic element and the audience appreciates it.
Eventually, Abi breaks the conceit half-naked when she appears still to be in her John role but out of control at last. This is very satisfying as she challenges what they are actually doing in terms of what right do they have to define or portray men at all. She becomes a kind of man / woman hybrid and essentially takes back the masculine elements and privileges of power and dominance which have perhaps been misappropriated by males.
When Helen fails to control and placate her, this develops into an extended rant which goes on a bit too long but is very well contrasted by Helen’s quieter comic routine as a meek and mild womanly woman. The two are really halves of the same personality battling to define women.
There are plenty of laughs and some swearing along the way in this thought-provoking and diverting piece which doesn’t drag in its 70-minute run with no break. There are some engagingly energetic pieces of ritualised dance and some fantastic singing. Some of the tableaux are particularly well realised, although there was little evidence of the haze about which we were warned in the production details. The final chant put this reviewer in mind of plainsong and is particularly moving.
The performers thoroughly deserved their standing ovation.