Saturday, 15 July 2017

What If Women Ruled The World – MIF, Mayfield, Manchester

[seen 05/07/17]

Would things improve much if women *ruled* the world? I’m not particularly convinced of the gender essentialist claim that women are by definition more virtuous, kind, compassionate, or understanding than men. I suspect that the problem might instead be “ruling,” and all that that entails, rather than one gender or another.

Brief description of piece: it opens with a pastiche of the end of Dr Strangelove (takes fifteen minutes, feels like 3 hours). The parts are play by female actors in “men's” clothing.

Then there’s a bit of set-up shtick about how we’re in a post-apocalyptic future where women now outnumber men ten to one and, contrary to Dr Strangelove’s pervy fantasies about how having ten women to every man for the purposes of repopulating the earth with his Aryan dream, this is proposed as an imaginary matriarchy.

On the night I saw it (the guests change every night), this imaginary matriarchy was represented by five female experts (all Northern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere (which on my globe includes “the middle-east”), so not everything changes, evidently*). Their task is to discourse on their area of expertise, while the actors basically interrupt them with some monologues in dire need of context and some “amusing” skits in which a “classically attractive” beefcake-in-pants comes in as the tea boy.

The irony of these scenes is, having opted for “classically attractive” to mean “built like a tank that’s been to the gym too often,” the sheer disparity between tea-boy and women is all too apparent: he could probably kill each of them with his bare hands. No problem. The problem of control (so “ruling”) is a problem of oppression and violence. A more interesting title/discussion for the piece (if it has to exist), might be: “How Can Women Get To Rule The World?” which, if nothing else, would perhaps have laid bare the ways in which we actually understand power, violence, labour and capital. (But only if not interrupted by decontextualised monologues.)

What the experts said – what you could hear of it, with the lousy acoustics, and the radio-mic problems – was quite good. But basically like an Agree-y Question Time that could have been held anywhere. Sure, there’s a faction in theatre who believe that a panel discussion can be construed as theatre. I’m not sure I agree with them. And neither do the makers of this piece, clearly, hence the added Extra Theatre Bits).

It strikes me that if one of theatre’s many strengths is the possibility of putting yourself in someone else’s position, then both Fatherland and What If... would have been much improved if they’d been made by the opposite production teams. Then, instead of two of the laziest, most comfort-zone-based pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, we’d have some genuine inquiry and an attempt to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.

The absolute worst thing about this, though, is that it is part of the programme of the new Volksbühne, while Manchester gets to see nothing from the old Volksbühne (and in a space that could have almost supported it). How much better it would have been to have transferred Castorf’s Faust, or Marthaler’s _ _ _ _, than hosting this hideous neoliberal chat-show because Chris Dercon was happy to throw money at us.

*There was also a problematic thing the night I saw it, where one of the panellists repeatedly referred to the problem of “the middle-east” being “dictatorships”. Which, to my mind, rather glossed over another problem of the middle-east... (That the lead artist on the project is Israeli only serves to amplify this discomfort. Unwontedly, I’m sure. And I’m sure on other nights, when the panel was different, this concern wouldn’t have arisen.)

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