By Britt MacLeod
You don’t need me to tell you we are living in strange times.
UBC Theatre’s production of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. by British playwright, Alice Birch opened last Thursday and closed two days later after three performances. There are many things to be saddened and stranged about during this confusing time, and I certainly feel for the cast and crew of this show, who after months of work are not able to continue their run. And indeed, I am sorry that you will not be able to enjoy this thrilling piece of theatre by a very talented ensemble.
The experience of witnessing this production will buoy me through the coming weeks of self-distancing and scarcity of live performance. It was brave, exciting and dynamic work.
Emily Dotson’s set was minimalistic, an asymmetrical arrangement of boxes painted in greyscale that were rearranged gradually over the course of the fragmented vignettes which make up the play. From the top of the show, the boxes and the cast (who costume designer, Sherry Yang had clad in greys whilst playing as ensemble) were set back on the stage, framed by the proscenium, but both would later splay across the playing space and spill out into the house as the production dipped a toe into more avant-garde forms. This greyscale scene formed a backdrop for the thrust stage that was constructed to extend two rows deep into the centre orchestra of the auditorium. The square took on the role of a pedestal sometimes, or a podium, where actors edged closer to the audience making their arguments for revolt and offering themselves as art or timeless artifact, all the while reeling the audience in.
The ensemble deftly maneuvered from the series of realistic scenes between twos and threes of actors to moments of controlled collective chaos rooted in experimentalism.
I could distinguish the mature, searing and grounded performances of Charmaine Sibanda, and Ava Maria Safai, or point to the comedic chops of Pamela Carolina Martinez and Drew Ogle, the gripping energy and intensity of Holly Collis Handford, or the incredible show of vulnerability and courage by Hana Cripton-Inglis.
But the true strength of this show, and a great credit to director, Sloan Thompson, was the power of the collective energy, the unity and cohesiveness of its ensemble. The actors did not move as one in the literal sense, quite to the contrary, their blocking and movement remained individualized and distinct throughout their group work, with each gesture or glance seeming to be supported by specific character choices even in moments where they remained set back from the main action of the scenes. At every twist and turn, there was a palpable thrust of energy from the group, they leaned in together to hear and judge the wording of every argument presented in the vignettes, they were collectively unctuous and looming then empathetic and luminous. I got the sense that there was a great deal of trust and harmony between them—everyone was sharing the work to deliver this story, parts of a whole. This idea is further supported by the equality exhibited in the program… every performer has the role of ‘Ensemble’; the artistic statement was not the director’s alone, but rather one by the ‘Director and the Cast.’
In the previously mentioned experimental moments, the ensemble not only broke the fourth wall, but burst through it. Painting their bodies, shouting, holding up signs, peddling hymens to the crowd with deeply unsettling flyers featuring Victorian portraits of young girls. This production is challenging, and yet, I felt taken care of.
The play does not offer much for intersectional feminists, it’s not for trans women, not for queers, really, but then again, it examines with a laser focus—different forms of oppression of cis-women and demands put upon them in the historical heterosexual/heterosocial relationship while staying true to the playwright’s experience, and it can still stir thought about identities that are not represented. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of theatre. Are there voices missing? Absolutely. But whether it’s Alice Birch’s job to write those voices, I’m not so sure. (This bears thinking about, though, particularly while our minds are bent to isolation… who is being left out? What is left unsaid?)
It is really a shame that this show couldn’t continue. I don’t know how else to say it, and, admittedly, I don’t know what all to say. I find myself conflicted about whether to avoid spoilers or to explicate the action of the play to fill in what you now cannot (for the time being?) experience. But suffice it to say, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. was exciting. It happened. And hopefully it can happen again in some way, some time.
UBC Theatre and Film Department’s production of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. by Alice Birch was directed by Sloan Thompson. It was slated to run March 12-28, 2020 at the Frederic Wood Theatre on UBC’s Point Grey Campus, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and global responses to it, the show was forced to close on Saturday, March 14.