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Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again at Malthouse Theatre

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by Elizabeth Quinn (subscribe)
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Revolt - because well-behaved women rarely make history
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. was inspired by American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's assertion that "well-behaved women rarely make history". Playwright Alice Birch's response is a play that examines the forces that shape women in the 21st century, the same forces that have shaped us throughout history, and then asks us if we can change them through radical action. Throughout Revolt, the focus is on language, holding it accountable and twisting it back on itself.

The play begins with a series of vignettes, each one exploring the way women use language and the way it is used against them. We see a woman and her male partner discuss their sex life, the aftermath of a marriage proposal and one woman asking her boss for a raise – a brilliant sparring match between performers Elizabeth Esguerra and Belinda McClory.

Revolt She Said, Revolt again, Malthouse, Southbank, Alice Birch, Janice Muller, Elizabeth Esguerra, Ming-Zhu Hii, Belinda McClory,
Elizabeth Esguerra

Alice Birch's script is equal parts funny and heartbreaking and each of these scenes does a truly wonderful job of exploring what language does to a woman, to her power and presence. Each vignette is tight, with snappy dialogue and creative blocking, but you find yourself wondering where the play could go from there, and whether these individual moments could sustain an entire performance.

Revolt She Said, Revolt Again, Malthouse, Southbank, Alice Birch, Janice Muller, Elizabeth Esguerra, Ming-Zhu Hii, Belinda McClory, Sophie Ross
Belinda McClory

And then comes a moment in which everything is ruptured; a literal breaking of boundaries. Suddenly, the audience are the ones being addressed, being made culpable for our gaze. From there Revolt descends into chaos, but it is the kind of tightly formed chaos that allows the audience a sense of direction, even if we can't quite follow it through.

One of the greatest strengths of Revolt is its design; particularly Marg Horwell's set design which so beautifully informs the transition of the show from its refined first act to its frenetic second act, complemented by Emma Valente's lighting design. The ensemble cast have great chemistry, which is highlighted in scenes like the one in which a woman begs her mother to tell her child that she comes "from somewhere kind." At this moment, all three women are separated onstage, trapped in their own worlds, yet the audience feels the links between them stretching and tearing.

Revolt She Said, Revolt Again, Mlthouse, Southbank, Alice Birch, Janice Muller, Elizabeth Esguerra, Ming-Zhu Hii, Belinda McClory
Ming-Zhu Hii, Belinda McClory and Sophie Ross

Bringing all the moving pieces of Revolt together is Janice Muller's direction, which must have been challenging given the nature of the script. Watching the play makes you want to know what was going on in the rehearsal room, what the script looked like and how they managed to wrestle it into place.

In her director's notes, Janice Muller states that Birch suggests the "staging of the play itself should not be well-behaved". Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is not a well-behaved play –it is messy and sticky and leaves you feeling slightly exhausted. Revolt takes on one of the most fundamental parts of our society, language, and asks us what it would take for us to revolutionise it.
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Why? Because sometimes we don't want to watch well-behaved theatre
When: 16 JUNE – 9 JULY 2017
Phone: (03) 9685 5111
Where: Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street Southbank
Cost: Standard / $69 Senior / $64 Concession / $49 Under 30s & Students / $35
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