All The Single Lad(ie)s – Blurred gender lines at PACT for Fringe (Theatre Review)

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All The Single Lad(ie)s

24 to 27 September

PACT centre for emerging artists. You can grab tickets here. 

Complications between the sexes are not new, however they are evolving and with each passing year, our ability to articulate what goes on between men and women (if such creatures really exist) gains traction, particularly since philosophies such as deconstruction have given us some scope to work with. We are no longer burdened by political norms, no longer determined to include definition as interpretation, or prior information as creation. Who we “are” in terms of our sexuality is getting more interesting, and it is just as exciting to discover myself and my own deeply held convictions as reflections of my position in history, geography, socio-economic group as it is to claim certain freedoms of expression that have opened themselves up even in the short period of time I have been trying to speak my mind. In the last eight years or so, the singer Beyoncé Knowles has emerged as a force for a new style of feminism, watered down a little if you come from my world (marriage and photoshopping to make your thighs smaller aren’t ideas as the core of the feminism I know and love) but suitably posited with the tired traditions of misogynistic rap to be a part of the way we are looking at ourselves and what makes a man a man and a woman a woman. Into this mix, the Cutting Room Floor brings All The Single Lad(ie)s, written by Zoe Hollyoak in such a way as to question the role patriarchy have assigned to each of us – male and female. Power might be moving back and forth between the sexes, and might be throbbing at the core of how we contextualise our relationships, but desire is in there also, mutating, and changing the way we deal with each other in a world where humans are far more suggestible than we’d like to think.

All the Single Lad(ie)s is two plays within one, until it reaches a very dark moment (warning without spoilers, this play contains a graphic display of rape that was shocking to watch) when the lightness of  Braiden Dunn’s Tammy Pack’s “drag-tastic” performance as a really fabulous Beyoncé dancer/feminist preacher clashes with a climactic point between a man and a woman whose use and abuse of power at the point of a gun gets horribly out of hand. Firearms are the great leveler, as any pro-gun lobbyist will tell you, but one has to be prepared to use the firearm in order for it to be properly valuable, a skill that doesn’t depend on sex. However, power is a great aphrodisiac, and as Zoe Hollyoak wants us to see, its effects are not gender-specific. Patriarchy may tell us that men and women are very different, but as we are seeing more and more, give a woman power, and you can’t depend on those charming feminine instincts that got her through the bex-battles of the 1950’s housewife. Women and men would do well to avoid any truths about their intrinsic nature, as for the most part, we are in uncharted territory here.

These themes are interspersed with the conventional wisdom of Tammy who reminds us through the songs of Beyoncé, that even if power is a thing to adopt, we can still rely on the dulling effects of commercialism and capital to slow things down, contextualise and prevent too much from happening too soon. Beyoncé may be a feminist in her public persona, but she isn’t subversive or dangerous and her philosophy is, above all else, the importance of a valuable commercial product, and her behaviors contribute to the value of that product. In this way, she is far more like a politician than an artist, protecting her brand, watching her statements and pouring over her product under the embarrassing assumption she is in control of the machine she has become. It’s the sterilisation process capital demands, currency being a highly conservative monster and definitely not interested in rewarding real art. Interestingly, Hollyoak posits this with the couple, who come together under the guise of a commercial transaction, she owning a women’s clothing store, and he wanting to steal from her at gunpoint. As money passes hands back and forth, it travels between the couple like the gun, a strange melding of power and desire maintaining the fluidity of all the different transactions represented. Verity Softly is a beautiful woman, fragile and soft, and yet so much larger than Jack Walker who plays the desperate man who has set for himself the task of stealing from store owners. We forget that the thief works hard for his money too, takes great risk, and cuts against norms they never agreed to. The three form an interesting picture, Tammy with her pop wisdom, her Beyoncé songs, her stunning gender bending, and the man and woman wrestling for power in a commercial space. In this way, All the Single Lad(ie)s becomes a frame of sorts of ideas that we see being played out in front of us all day every day, and yet very rarely pay any attention to.