- OnStage United Kingdom Critic
The last time I saw Leeds-based theatre company RashDash, made up of Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland, was four years ago on stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse playing some very angry ugly sisters. Their performance was fun, engaging and exciting, composed of extended physical sequences and punky rock music interludes. Now, they're back with a new show that was so successful at the Edinburgh Fringe last year it's become a theatrical phenomenon and had sell out runs at the Soho Theatre: this show is Two Man Show, and I managed to catch it on its stop at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Two Man Show sees the trio performing in traverse in the Courtyard Theatre, bringing to life an argumentative, punky piece of theatre that fights against what we think we know about masculinity and patriarchy. Goalen and Greenland play a series of female characters that bring historical arguments to bear, while simultaneously bearing all in a series of physical sequences accompanied by soaring vocal loop pedal pieces and music by Becky Wilkie. The duo also occasionally portray two brothers who come together to care for their dying father. It all sounds a bit chaotic, doesn't it? Well, it is - but in the best possible way.
RashDash always prided themselves on being 'rash as in reckless, dash as in fast' and this core tenet is certainly at the heart of their striking new piece. Their rashness comes in the form the dizzying structure of the piece, which gleefully lurches from one vignette to the next to echo the moral maelstrom surrounding gender stereotypes and societal roles today. Using this signature, trademark rashness in their latest work allows RashDash to tackle a broad range of themes and unite them under the same speed-driven, energetic banner that is at once engaging - not only because such energy is a joy to watch, but because it asks spectators to actively piece things together based on their own experiences.
With that in mind, pace is a key component of Two Man Show, as well as the weight of phenomenology and the power it imbues its spectators with. The two male characters portrayed in the piece accurately tap into the memories we have of similar characters we've met, and the pace at which the duologues between the characters are delivered actively transforms the some. It turns the stage in the traverse setting into a centrepiece, where audiences not only siphon their own thoughts and feelings from the atmosphere generated, but can also silently engage with the collective consciousness surrounding them.
Just when you feel safe in indulging in this dramatic, tense and almost meditative atmosphere, RashDash grab a microphone and shatter the thoughtful silence, bringing you face to face with more concepts and themes to be explored. Such frantic changes in scene adopt their own air of punk-like gracefulness, and keep things fresh and energised. There's no way to zone out or nod off in response to the questions being posed here - and I'm sure I'm not the only one still trying to figure out the answers to some of the questions, or even exactly what the questions asked are.
Though such artistic decisions may not be to everyone's taste, there is undoubtedly something for every audience member to take away from Two Man Show. Certainly, exhilaration will be one thing to take away, but the main keepsake from this piece has to be the hunger for answers and, more importantly, questions about our collective understanding of gender roles and their place in our society.
For more information and tickets to shows on Two Man Show's tour, visit: https://www.rashdash.co.uk/two-man-show
Photo by The Other Richard