Arts / When revolution comes with risk

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BRITISH playwright Alice Birch shows how the world is made of more barriers and glass ceilings than you’d think in her play “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again”.

Hiyab Kerr and Hayden Splitt in “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again”. Photo by Shelly Higgs

Admired for her brilliantly excoriating dialogue, in “Revolt” she lays into the practices and worse, the language, that muddy the waters of feminism – mega-texting, sexting, music videos, internet porn, police harassment and rape.

In the first part of the play, which will be seen at The Street Theatre, through brief dialogues between pairs or trios of actors, Birch looks at the gendered words and routines we take for granted in day-to-day life and suggests some solutions.

Birch was co-winner of London’s George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2014.

Linguistic usage is to the fore, but the director for this highly verbal play is Karla Conway, known for her physical theatre approach to productions.

Conway, a NIDA graduate who was formerly director and CEO of Canberra Youth Theatre and creative producer at Warehouse Circus, is now the education program manager at Canberra Theatre and says she believes “Revolt” demands “a radical rethink about how to fix the system in a rapidly changing world”.

So, what happens? A couple just getting together examine the brutality of our sexual vocabulary – seen in words such as “penetration” and “thrusting”, for instance – but the alternatives don’t look promising, either.

The play seems to push for revolution, but shows how that might well destroy the women it is supposed to help. It eventually moves toward cross-generational attitudes to male violence and a grim, apocalyptic vision of the future for humanity.

Birch wrote “Revolt” in response to a now-famous 1976 assertion by Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich that “well-behaved women seldom make history”, a quote that made its way on to T-shirts and bumper stickers.

The script’s searing social comment is tempered with a good deal of humour and it has proved the perfect fit for an initiative called The Street Company, a professional pilot program that’s seen Conway working with a group of actors (Damon Baudin, Bronte Forrester, Ash Hamilton-Smith, Hiyab Kerr, Hayden Splitt, and Anneke van der Velde) as well as assistant director Daniel Berthon and lighting designer Jed Buchanan in his first work for The Street.

Seen by The Street as “a vital bridge in the transition from full-time training to professional production practice in Canberra,” the program offers a group of young actors intensive work and a chance to make “theatre that speaks to now”.

“Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again”, The Street Theatre, November 28-December 1, bookings to or 6247 1223.



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Helen Musa
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