Two Man Show

When Goalen, Greenland and Wilkie sweep, commandingly onto the stage of the Soho Theatre, they announce their identity as goddesses ‘who know everything’. They certainly look the part; clad in floor-length gold robes, they hasten to inform the audience about thousands of years of patriarchal subjugation, signposting historical legacies dating back to Neolithic times which have been manipulated in order to oppress women. With microphones warping their voices to tinny robotic shrieks and riotous use of the bass drum, the women are like daleks with a heavy Florence Welch aesthetic.

These scenes are interspersed with sections of high-intensity dance in which the two women hurl each other around, run, dive, leap, kick and scream. They are strong and gentle, rough and soft and they support one another beautifully.

From here, the women swiftly take on the aliases of John and Dan, estranged brothers whose trajectories have realigned in the face of their father’s dementia. Goalen and Greenland wade through some heavy issues from the perspective of masculine identity. Dan and John are typically repressed, unable to connect or effectively deal with the many years of emotional baggage they carry. The message, typically, seems to be that the patriarchy is a double-edged sword, endowing men with power as it insidiously strips them of the ability to define themselves.

These scenes are interspersed with sections of high-intensity dance in which the two women hurl each other around, run, dive, leap, kick and scream. They are strong and gentle, rough and soft and they support one another beautifully. With breasts bared and muscles straining, Goalen and Greenland seem to be daring the audience to make a judgement about women’s bodies. When language fails, it is these moments of movement, singing and music that allow Goalen and Greenland to express themselves on their own terms.

The problem with performing gender is, of course, that it can be a reductive and superficial take on something that is deeply personal and nuanced. For a while, this seems to be the main issue with Two Man Show: the dialogue in the male scenes is halting, awkward and feels vaguely patronising. As a man, I neither identified nor empathised with either of the emotionally stunted blokes on the stage. I started to lose my patience with the charade.

However, by the end, the smart ladies at RashDash pre-emptively rebut these criticisms within their own show. In a stroke of genius, John returns to the stage, refusing to break character and return to the ‘feminine’ realm of dance and movement. What follows is a five minute tirade given by Greenland in which she rejects stereotypical expectations of women and claims the title ‘manwoman’: a brash, authoritative, loud, assured figure who is, above all, unapologetic about the person she is. As she finally collapses to the ground, there is a stunned silence and, eventually, some applause.

This is when Goalen takes to the microphone. She endorses her own, traditional experience of womanhood. She likes wearing dresses and talking quietly; she doesn’t think she will ever be able to parallel park and she actually doesn’t need to occupy that much space. She is repulsed by the manwoman; if that is the future, she wants to be left behind.

In the end, there is no easy answer to this dichotomy. The show is messy and difficult but at times, it shines with intelligence, wit and assurance. There isn’t a clear message, nor would it be appropriate to suggest one. I walked away with a sense that I had just watched two smart, funny, talented women do exactly what it is that they should be doing.

Reviews by Cal Kenny

Dorfman - National Theatre

Barber Shop Chronicles

★★★★★
Southbank Centre

Bianco

★★★
Trafalgar Studio 1 / Trafalgar Studios

Buried Child

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Side Show

★★
The Royal Court Theatre

Torn

★★★
Soho Theatre

Two Man Show

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen are women playing women playing men in a show about how patriarchy is bad for everyone, and how being a man can be a dangerous, difficult and confusing act. In their trademark raw and visceral performance style combining physical theatre and live music, Abbi and Helen asks what it is to be a man in a feminist future, how language is geared towards empowering men, and what men and women really understand about each other.