Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again | Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat | Scary Shit

Matt Trueman reviews: Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again (4 stars) | Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat (4 stars) | Scary Shit (2 stars)

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Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
Published 21 August 2016

This revolution is not televised, but staged. Alice Birch’s abstract play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. provides a blueprint for feminist dissent. A series of short scenes, each as linguistically precise as a Caryl Churchill play, become a kind of instruction manual. They start with a title—Revolutionize the Language (Invert It)—that the action exemplifies. Imagine a staged aircraft safety card: a guide to crashing the patriarchy.

It is not hectoring, but humorous – yet no less staunch for being (seriously) satirical. Rather than an organised coup—‘man’ the barricades and all that—Birch pushes for an uprising of individuals: an act of mass refusal. The first scene sees a woman (Emmanuella Cole) take ownership of sexual language. Rather than being fucked, she fucks back. He screws, so she scissors. He enters her, so she enters him. “I am on you before you are in me,” she snaps. Call it a locking of horns. Birch doesn’t just reveal the inequality, she counters it.

At first, every scene works similarly. One woman refuses marriage: the request to "be my wife". Another demands Mondays off work, simply to get the sleep she needs. As these acts accumulate, they disrupt the whole. Birch’s writing fragments and Madeleine Girling’s clean-cut design grows disordered: a slash of paint across the back wall, a watermelon chopped in two. The red on black is alarming and vivid.

Some have bemoaned the lack of fury in Erica Whyman’s production, flagging up the writer’s instruction: “This play should not be well behaved.” True, it is somewhat dated and detached, but the politeness—no, the civility—is part of the point. Revolt looks entirely reasonable. It makes sense. “Aren’t you tired?” the play asks. Wouldn’t it be better, for all of us, to sort this out? To stop following a system that screws us all? Revolt puts radicalism and resistance within reach.

Yet, it does so while mocking ‘pick and mix’ feminism; the sort of online activism that wears its credentials like a badge of honour. Birch’s revolution will not be merchandised and, with references to North Korea, globalisation and the diamond trade, it takes everyone with it. “It may take years,” says one woman at the end. “Imagine if it took weeks.”

If Birch’s revolution starts with language, Lucy McCormick’s begins with meaning. Triple Threat is—wait for it— a live art reenactment of the New Testament laced with pop anthems. And yes, that really is Jesus getting finger-fucked by his doubting disciple Thomas.

It’s not just that McCormick plays Jesus herself—putting a woman at the heart of the story—but she insists that Mary gets a mother’s lament, so it’s not all about Father and Son. In covering herself in mayo and instant coffee, in stripping off, snogging Judas and waving her bits about, McCormick puts the body back into the Bible. She brings the passion to The Passion.

These iconic images—birth, temptation, crucifixion—have become emptily familiar: the hallowed made hollow through repetition. McCormick restores them with a determined flippancy. Herod downs an Innocent smoothie; the Devil tempts with fags and booze. The glibness works both ways: a criticism and a renewal.

Repurposing pop songs as a scriptural soundtrack—Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ and Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ become theological treatises—not only flags our own false gods and pop idols, it reveals the way profound lyrics are put to profane tunes for profit. Nothing means anything any more. Against that, Triple Threat becomes a tirade against vacuity and its causes: profit, patriarchy and passive acceptance. Yet, though theologically lightweight, it’s also its own antidote. As we sing along, we become a congregation.

A decade ago, 63,000 people complained that Jerry Springer: The Opera was blasphemous. Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas put Jesus in a nappy. Again, (s)he’s fingered in the arse here. And yet: no protests, no boycotts. Not a peep. In a world without meaning, where anything goes, McCormick asks if anything’s sacred?

Across town, Rhiannon Faith wants us to look out for ourselves – and each other. Despite the scatological title, Scary Shit is a fluffball of a show: sub-Bryony Kimmings with added sugar. Joined onstage by her friend Maddy Morgan, a silent scowl to Faith’s full-beam smile, the pair lay out their anxieties – and it’s alarming to realise how many are specifically female. Not having children. Eyebrow threading. Smear tests. Faith’s phobia of phones comes from being dumped down the line.

Playing out a course of cognitive behavioural therapy, Scary Shit advocates creativity as a cure: a way of expressing fears, rehearsing for life and building safe spaces. In homemade armour—Morgan’s gold shoulder spikes and Faith’s fluffy pink crash helmet—the two dance courgette dick dances and open up about their own anxiety disorders. Despite the best of intentions, however, it’s all so softly-softly. Revolt, you think. Revolt again.