Install Theme
The Other Place At The RSC
Midsummer Mischief

WRITER RESPONSE: SHAY WILSON

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A response to Midsummer Mischief by Shay Wilson (@FleeInBoats)

There are some who think that we failed. That a miss is as good as a mile and modern womankind is a husk of the 70’s dream, pushing her boobs up against the glass ceiling and announcing how much she loves sex in the city but doesn’t care much for the TV show. Or else is the lovechild of corporation and materialism, wrought out of ruthless ambition and a trouser suit. Sexism is as rife as ever and the mantle of the cause has been handed down unwittingly to the latest pop sensation who has grabbed a pair of scissors and made it into a crop-top.

 

To some of those who cut their teeth reading the feminist commentary of the past, this might all strike as plausibly true. That one of the guiding principles of the time was to stop men acting like and with their dicks and sprinkle what was great about women on them, rather than merely gaining access to the spiritually bankrupt world scores of men inhabit. Of course the question of opportunity remains – to deny a woman the right to an influential and powerful position would be detrimental for all, but once we achieve that, aren’t we missing something else? If on the other hand it strikes as untrue, it’s untrue for intriguing and seemingly counterintuitive reasons. While we do have to take a step back and see how far we’ve come (a little reflection on our progress seems to lessen the fears mentioned above), those on both sides would agree that it would be a huge mistake to be happy with the status quo — like the New Yorker cartoon in which one Egyptian slave would prefer another “Stop complaining! It’s an honor to be associated with an enterprise of this magnitude.”

Cultural theory and ideology is sometimes described as the ‘conversation of mankind’ and in the context of how our society thinks about and treats women it sounds all very civilised and accommodating but unfortunately most of the people at the table didn’t get a chance to talk. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. The fantastically titled play by Alice Birch powerfully interrupts the tedious patriarch holding forth at the head of the table and suggests its own topics for conversation, defining the terms of a new generation. With an anarchic and fragmentary style that feels totally natural in the context, it offers up ideas: Revolutionize the Language… 

-Laying you down. And making love to you.

- Or

- No or

- Or

-There Is no Or - there is no other option

- Yes but

- I want to make love to you

- Or

  With?

Erica Wyman’s direction (the word seems appropriate) has fed off the script and concentrated its energy, at one point having us simultaneously witnessing hysterical laughter, a discussion on dolphin rape and the smashing of watermelons with an axe. It all feels larger than social commentary and deeper that mere entertainment, meanwhile bringing back to fore the idea that we can successfully use the feminine as a means rather than an obstacle to power.

We’re taught that in our new hyper-sensory world we have developed shorter attention spans, that we want easily digestible sound-bytes rather than the square meals served up by the nutritious information mediums of the past. Rather, we want rapid and easily implementable change Revolt replies, dissatisfied with the glacially changing paradigms of the past and presenting us with something more immediate and visceral. It suggests we need to nurture the fleeting and ritualistic social events that make up our daily lives and — given this newly fragmented world — hold them up as worthy of scrutiny and essential to change. It reminds us that although we need to address economic disparity, we also need to focus closely on the cultural and unconscious everyday problems, because if there’s inequality in the room, being in the room doesn’t make a difference.

As our Universe is slowly being found to be connected in ways unimaginable in the past and we discover that minute changes in single genes can affect whole networks of biological construct, so too might these small radical acts envisioned by new feminist art create butterfly effects of social consequence we can’t imagine today. Most of us aren’t well versed in lepidoptery, but we know when we see a pretty one. That could be enough.

"…desperate because I think I have been living on the principle of human kindness and hope being enough and the thought being enough but it turns out it isn’t it turns out we stopped watching and checking and nurturing the thought to become the action at some point because at some point I opened my eyes at some point and looked up and it felt like wastelands…"

The general response to the Midsummer Mischief festival has been largely positive, but to those with reservations I would suggest that seeing the plays as absolute and conclusive misses the point. They’re an honest and engaging contribution to the conversation of where we are in our ideas about gender and the culture that surrounds it — effective and powerful but without the stridency that might have put some off in the past. Not to mention really funny. A veteran audience member at one the discussions surrounding the festival talked of her disappointment that the progress of feminist ideas has largely been forgotten and that the same old arguments recur as if they’ve never been mentioned at all. To a certain extent this seems inevitable as the young find their ideological feet, and really the only way we can make these ideas indelible is to maintain them as part of the communal conversation — which Erica Wyman and her troupe should absolutely be commended for. Revolt reminds us that we have to be persistent in digging up the roots of these inequalities while at same time not neglecting the effects they have upon us, like the old joke about the psychotherapist who finds someone shot and bleeding to death at the side of the road and declares, “Tell me the name of the person who did this to you. He needs help immediately!”

I think it was the long-suffering Wilma Flinstone who first proposed that progressive ideas offered up by modern thought is “more like doing housework than building a house. It’s not heading towards something final and conclusive, it’s redone every day and the idea of history as one long narrative of progress must be abandoned as fostering a false sense of inevitability.” Wilma could be right: can we really expect the path to our equality and enlightenment to be a step by step process towards an Ultimate Goal? Or is it a more likely to be a frustratingly ineffable kind of progress, one which involves doing our collective laundry every now and then? Like the disruption of conventional narrative in Revolt, should we also see the history of our progress in the same way?

"…wastelands had grown where we thought we were building mountains…"

In some respects though, it is true that the discussion fell out of favour and prominence for a while, but it seems in the nature of progress that the actual work accomplished tends to be absorbed into the structures by which we conceive ourselves as a society. We usually don’t readily see the incremental work it took to arrive at any given point in our social progression. Instead, the achievement itself becomes the lesson and the measure of it fades to footnotes. Theatre — and the arts in general — can make manifest the measure, giving us historical markers by which we might see the true triumph of our future enlightenment. Preferably art that sails through the Bechdel test and offers us more than women stuck in love hexagons and adolescent male daydreams. Art that, as Gore Vidal said, becomes our “one small yes at the center of a vast no.”

And now the youth of today get to work. Here is a school science volcano of our sexual history, a mechanical pumpkin singing rape jokes and winking at passing women, a model train set of everyday sexism with forking tracks of maternity and career, tunnels of the silenced historical voice and a red faced station master. Here is a paper-mache vagina dentata by Rosie aged 6 ¾ — which took a finger from the pervy PE teacher. A crayon drawing of Lisa Simpson aged 35 convening the first annual meeting of the International Court of Crimes Against Opportunity, and look - little Tommy has made an iPhone game which navigates the soul crushing world of European sex trafficking. I’m so glad they took a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon this year - they’re speaking in iambic pentameter and are taking us another mile on the road to our glorious feminist praxis. Along the way we shouldn’t lose sight of the spark of education. The education of boys and young men too. Perhaps that’s what has been neglected thus far, a failure to teach men that female liberation, rather than being merely a threat to the Patriarchy, could be the very thing which can save us from it.