"How would the world be different if patriarchy hadn't been invented?"

| by Eleanor Turney

Helen Goalen of RashDash tells Eleanor Turney about Two Man Show, getting naked and smashing the patriarchy

Photograph: Richard Davenport

My first question is: for people who don't know your work, can you talk a little bit about the sort of shows that you make?

The shows that RashDash make always contain live music and are always really physical. They're normally telling a story, but not necessarily a story in a conventional way. I think we try and play with narrative, and we try and play with form as much as possible. We make shows about things that we really care about, as well – that's always really important.

They're a combination of writing and devising, so the text might feel quite 'written' but it'll be alongside a language that is very visual. And it's probably important to say that they're always pretty political as well, and I think our work has become more political. There's always a kind of argument or a thing to discuss at the centre of our work.

"We’re questioning why patriarchy has gone so unquestioned for so long"

And what is that thing in Two Man Show?

In Two Man Show it's patriarchy. We're questioning why patriarchy has gone so unquestioned for so long. We're shining a light on how it is such a huge part of the way that we see ourselves. The way that we relate to each other, how society is formed, how language is formed, how our thoughts are formed, our notions of gender, our notions of masculinity and femininity, and how they fit into a spectrum are all created from a society that is patriarchal.

The show is looking at that and saying, this is something that was created by humans, this is not the world, this is not the natural world, and this is the mess that we're in because of it. What would a world look like where we didn't have all of these strict ways of seeing ourselves, men and women – how would the world be different if patriarchy hadn't been invented?

"We wanted to look at masculinity and the crisis of masculinity"

This show talks a lot at how patriarchy affects men as well, which feels like a more unusual take on it. Can you talk about that?

I think as a feminist company it felt really important to us that the show was about men, and that's very much where it began. It began with us wanting to explore two male characters and have them at the centre of a show. We wanted to look at masculinity and the crisis of masculinity. There was loads of stuff at the time about suicide rates of men rising and men feeling under an enormous amount of pressure to fulfil a role that somehow feels slightly irrelevant now because the world is changing so much.

We wanted to address that and go: it's okay not to be the man that you think you have to be. We wanted to sort of deconstruct what masculinity is, how it's come to be what it is and how it has become, or is becoming, slightly irrelevant – and therefore what is in its place? We weren't trying to give men a voice, as such, because if we'd wanted to do that we would have had men in the show. It was us wanting to explore what it is to be a man, from a feminist perspective.

"Inclusivity feels like a huge part of being a feminist company"

When you describe yourselves as a feminist company, what does that mean, and how does it affect your process and your thinking?

That's a good question! We are a feminist company. I feel at the moment, actually we're really asking 'what does being a feminist company mean?'. too. We've been researching a show that is about race, and realising that for a long time we've been speaking from the privileged position of white feminism as white women, and how potentially we haven't been as inclusive as we might have been. I suppose that leads me to say, inclusivity feels like a huge part of being a feminist company.

We're a company of three women. It feels like it's about being inclusive, being progressive, being equal and not hierarchical. I think we work in quite an unconventional way because of the lack of hierarchy in a room, which can make it quite confusing, I think, for people who don't quite know how we work. Often what we're trying to do is to debunk theatrical traditions that have come out of the patriarchy. The company is often saying, this is the way this has always been, how can we undo and unthink that, how can we unravel that a little bit more?

 It's partly about critiquing the theatrical world in which we've grown up, and knowing that lots of the tastes have come from a form that is quite male and has really arrived through the canon. We're still very drawn to lots of those things, like narrative and certain things being really conventional. So I suppose part of what we're trying to do is rupture all of that.

"We're naked in the show and that's sort of the main feature of it "

Being part of the Edinburgh Showcase, obviously the hope is that the work will be picked up and you'll be able to tour abroad and share the work with more people. For all of the UK's myriad problems with the patriarchy and with feminism and with the way it treats women, we are obviously more progressive than an awful lot of societies. Have you guys thought about that in terms of where you might want to take the show and how it might resonate differently in a different place?

Yes, we have, and I can't imagine there being anywhere that would want to take the show that we wouldn't want to go to. I'm pretty sure we're up for going anywhere that thinks they would have receptive audiences. We're naked in the show and that's sort of the main feature of it  – deconstructing how we look at women's naked bodies and what a naked woman's body normally means when you see it on stage, and trying to reframe that. It won't be appropriate for some places.

I wonder how many people will be put off. It would be fascinating to see how people from other cultures respond to it. But obviously a lot of Europe is much more open to nakedness and is much less private about that than we are in the UK.


Helen Goalen, a founding member of RashDash, was talking to Eleanor Turneya freelance journalist, editor and arts consultant, and Co-Director of Incoming Festival.

Two Man Show is at Northern Stage at Summerhall from 2126 August (not Wednesday 23 August).


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