Writers: Rebekah Harvey and Sandy Murray
Director: Elif Knight
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The battle for gender equality is far from over, but while women have made some strides in the last 50 years, one unexpected outcome is a similar kind of gendered pressure exerted on men to retain their roles as hunters and heroes. Concepts of femininity and masculinity have always reflected their era, and while for hundreds of years women have been expected to behave in a certain way, so too have men.
Rebekah Harvey and Sandy Murray’s new play Why Not Us? enters the gender battlefield as two young people try to make sense of who they are and who they’re expected to be. Through a series of discursive sketches held together by Emily and Liam’s narrative, the pair move from university life to their first jobs, taking in clubbing, English Literature, sexism in the workplace and relationships, in order to understand where our ideas of gender actually come from.
It’s an ambitious project for theatre company The Identity Collective, founded by Harvey in 2015, but one that with a little polish has much to offer on the issues of modern concepts of gender. While at times some of the sections veer towards the preachy and sentences feel more polemic than natural speech, Harvey and Murray have successfully created a show that exposes the contradiction in a society that is still profoundly sexist yet encourages men and women to be anyone they want to be.
Most successful is a scene set in a club which begins with Emily (Harvey) and her friend fighting off the unwanted attentions of a persistent man, offering them drinks and gyrating nearby. This swiftly merges into a contemporary take on a Jane Austen ball as the ladies wait patiently for the men to notice them, all the while behaving with perfect decorum. It’s a clever device that skewers the “meat market” nature of modern dating while almost regretting the loss of a time when gender roles were considerably clearer.
Similarly inventive is a later scene in which Liam (Murray) and two male friends banter at the pub acting up for each other while each concealing their own real feelings that are projected on screen as an inner monologue for the audience. This nicely mirrors Emily’s experience of sexism at work as her boss tries to invite her for a private drink, dangling the chance to interview a famous 15-year-old singer who talks endlessly about “loving her body” and “empowerment”, not realising she’s being exploited. These discussions emphasise the confusion of modern gender expectations, as well as questioning whether anything other than the language has really changed.
Less successful are a series of monologues in which Emily and Sandy talk to themselves at various points about the issues they’re facing. It’s in these sections that Why Not Us? becomes a little too stagey so Harvey and Murray could perhaps contrive a more subtle means of delivering their message, while the movement / dance sections add very little to a busy show.
Supported by Philippa Dawson, Simon Wan, Sara Coso and Matt Mowatt, Why Not Us? creates a vast number of scenarios and talking points in its 65-minute run-time. Throughout, the use of video projection is purposefully integrated to show text message exchanges, video calls and even a shadow puppet Princess fantasy kingdom, all of which add an inventive touch. And while the show needs a little smoothing, it’s refreshing to see a young company with something clear and important to say.
Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed