Saturday, 12 November 2016

Chapter 160: Two Tongue Theatre's "Boys Club"

Photo: Matt Studdart

"Spot the difference" Xav said, incensed, showing me a photo he had snapped in a Carrefour supermarket in France last week. Packs of identical razors side by side, but those on the left were double the price of those on the right. The difference? They were pink. Mais oui, "vive la différence!" when there is money to be made out of sexism, and where better to explore this shafting than in The Cockpit, host to the bilingual Voilà! festival for francophiles (see - click here), and on Sunday evening to Two Tongue Theatre's gender-bending Boys Club

Photo: Matt Studdart
Two Tongue Theatre is a dynamic French duo comprising Leonor Lemee and Sharlit Deyzac. Sharlit is also the founder of the Voilà! festival. I had first seen Boys Club back in March in embryonic form, as part of Sister Mary McArthur's Big Sunday Night Show - think Dame Edna meets Mother Superior. I had gone to see Christopher Howell, who I had first met on Ira Seidenstein's workshop (see post on Clowning Around - click here) as the devilishly debonair magician Norvil, with a wicked sense of humour, and was blown away by the ferocious, raw energy of Two Tongue Theatre. We stayed in touch and Boys Club, mentored by dark clown par excellence Peta Lily (see post on Peta's show Chastity Belt - click here), has since been at the Brighton Fringe, up in Edinburgh and touring in France, so I was very much looking forward to seeing how the show had developed. As it so happened, Ira, Emily and Sang from the Book of Clown (see previous post), in London for only a few days, were able to come along and see the show as well. I love it when the world comes together. 

Jules and Jo blasted onto the scene shooting out testosterone to the tune of  Reservoir Dog's "Little Green Bag" establishing, and stoking, their masculine credentials. Not since watching Kathryn Hunter take the lead in the all-female cast of Richard III at the Globe in 2003, then again in Islington as the transgendered doctor in Whistling Psyche, or as Kafka's Monkey, have I seen women channel masculine energy to such effect. They nailed it. There were those in the audience who were convinced they were men, Jules' bun on her head taken to be a hipster accessory rather than a dead giveaway. Jules was lean, elegant, controlled, while Jo was unstoppable and fierce, and that contrast was the key to their comedy chemistry. The comédie humaine they presented had ominous undercurrents. At first, the jostling over who would play the "weaker sex" in a scene was light-hearted enough: Alpha Jo resisted the housewife's headscarf but eventually resigned to adopting it being the physically shorter of the two, and we laughed at his reluctance. The music started up, a tease of a chanson des amoureux relating the cock part of a bull's story. Then the action ramped up and we got la bite between the teeth as the lover's ballad morphed into a disturbing tale of domestic violence with a graphic ending where the abuser got what was coming to him in a grotesque, farcical way, cabaret-style. 

Photo: Matt Studdart
A striptease followed later, with a bloody big reveal about the drop in contractual pay the actors would receive now they had been inadvertently "outed" as women. With little option but to translate into a Girls Club, there was a cheeky changeover and a clever symmetry in the female equivalents to Jules and Jo, the former now a restrained glamour of gold lamé, accessorised with an elegance of long black gloves, the latter an outré Alpha Barbie mannequin, blond wig, baby-doll skirt, white hold-ups, stripper platform heels. For a moment, with their painted facial hair, they were a freak show's bearded ladies inviting a certain geek love, then came a poignant and vulnerable moment as they smeared it off to reveal fresh-faced girls, before proceeding to make-up as exaggerated women, and the transformation was complete. Fully engaging the audience, they staged a sit-in in the theatre, recording and uploading footage of crowd support onto social media to bargain up their contract with those on high. When the management appeared unresponsive, out came a petrol can splashing, matches at the ready, and a thunderous audience chanted a countdown to their ultimatum. 

Clowning around with gender stereotypes and poking cracks in the glass ceiling of a world where being a woman often sucks* Two Tongue Theatre eloquently articulated a zeitgeist and made a stand. So, Congrats guys! Chapeau les gars! You literally set the house on fire! 

Photo: Two Tongue Theatre

*Think of Emma Rice, no sooner appointed artistic director of the Globe then forced to depart again, blood boiling as she she speaks out at sexist criticism in The Stage - click here , or Lyn Gardner's recent call to arms in her article Theatres must act now about gender inequality - click here

Boys Club
 is next showing 18-20 November at Theatre Utopia in Croydon. See - click here

Update: catch Jules & Jo in Boys Club at Etcetera Theatre (click here) in Camden this weekend, 6-7 January. Bonne Année 2017!


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