“Jessica Lazar’s luminous direction allows plenty of room for the performers to transform their bodies, and our imaginations”
Rafaella Marcus’ first full length play, directed by Jessica Lazar, for Atticist, and Ellie Keel productions, is a dazzling debut. The whole thing is performed in seventy minutes, with just two performers, outdoors in a tent at the Summerhall in Edinburgh. All of which just adds satisfying layers to this complex and thought provoking theatrical experience. At its simplest, SAP is a modern retelling of the Apollo and Daphne myth. SAP manages to retain the love and predatory desire of the original, as well as the tragedy. Performers Jessica Clark (as Daphne) and Rebecca Banatvala (playing all the other roles) are riveting as the pursuing, and the pursued.
Greek myths told in a new way is a perennially popular choice for playwrights. What makes Rafaella Marcus’ retelling so intriguing is that SAP confronts human sexuality in non binary forms, and in a very contemporary way. The language of SAP is rich and evocative. Metaphors are used lavishly, which suits the method of presentation — that of an extended monologue told by Daphne, and short scenes with two characters that round out the story when needed. Plants are described as images of transformation, but these are not gentle or passive examples of vegetable life. In the character of Daphne, Marcus explores the idea of metamorphosis as a metaphor for bisexuality as well. In the first of several unexpected plot twists, we discover that Daphne’s lovers are brother and sister. She has a casual fling with the brother, then meets the sister, and the two fall passionately in love. But Daphne’s lover is unsympathetic to the idea of bisexuality, and Daphne gets trapped in the first of several lies as she has to hide who she really is. When she meets her male lover again at a family wedding where both siblings are present, the meeting is catastrophic.
There is so much for a couple of talented performers to work with in SAP. Jessica Clark and Rebecca Banatvala are more than up to the challenge. Banatvala takes on the supporting roles, including those of the rival brother and sister. But the play begins and ends with Clark’s non binary character Daphne. Jessica Lazar’s luminous direction allows plenty of room for the performers to transform their bodies, and our imaginations, using the vivid language of Marcus’ script. Banatvala’s ability to shift character with the twitch of an eyebrow or shrug of a shoulder, is particularly breathtaking to watch. But the energy that drives the whole comes from Clark as Daphne. The production is complete and satisfying, and that includes costumes and set (Rūta Irbīte) and the work of sound designer and composer Tom Foskett-Barnes. Catch this production while you can in Edinburgh—and hope that it gets produced elsewhere, and soon.
Reviewed 4th August 2022
by Dominica Plummer
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“The comedy is frequent, and welcome. Because there are things here that are painful to listen to”
It is Monday evening. I am going to see Fitter at Soho Theatre, but I am killing time in a bookshop. I pick up a book about Dorothy Parker and flip through the pages. The first one I stop to read contains the poem “Symptom Recital”. And, all the way from 1936, Dorothy Parker strikes a chord when she says:
‘I shudder at the thought of men.’
Mary Higgins and Ell Potter also shudder at the thought of men. Their previous show, Hotter – a celebration/exploration/reclamation of bodies – was based on interviews with just about everyone except cis men. Obviously. Why would they want to speak to men? Beside, men don’t need a show.
Or maybe they do.
‘Maybe everyone needs a show.’
Part verbatim theatre, part performance art and part confession, Fitter is based on interviews with cis, trans, and masculine presenting men of all ages. Higgins and Potter ask them about their lives (emotional and physical), and use their answers to create a show that challenges popular misconceptions.
The audience’s expectations are dismantled at the same time as the performers’. Higgins and Potter know what the answer to their first question – ‘Would you rather be hard or soft?’ – will be. Until it ends up being the opposite. Emotional men don’t exist. Until they’re spotted crying at X Factor. It’s a well-known fact that men just want sex. Until they shock us by celebrating the emotional connection between themselves and their sexual partner.
Higgins and Potter lip-sync loving words between partners, recreate fights between pre-teen boys and play everyone from eight year olds to middle aged football fans. They also do a dance routine about douching. Which is one of the many gloriously silly moments that make this show so fun, in spite of its seriousness. Keeping the stage clear of set (with the exception of a small but significant green box), they fill it instead with energetic musical interludes that both add to the narrative and provide comic relief.
The comedy is frequent, and welcome. Because there are things here that are painful to listen to. Not just because they are beautifully written, not just because they are sensitively performed – but because they are true. Yes, some men are trash. Some are beyond trash, straying into “irredeemable” territory. But others are sensitive and thoughtful and kind. And they deserve to be uplifted. Fitter does not shy away from interrogating either. Instead, it celebrates the vulnerability of human life, the joys and fears of the individual, and the experience of coming together to watch two women redefine the male stereotype (and draw beards on each other).
On the bus home, I re-read “Symptom Recital”. It turns out that the relatable line is actually a rhyming couplet, paired with:
‘I’m due to fall in love again.’
I don’t think Fitter will make you fall in love with men. But it might help you understand them. And that, in and of itself, is a very valuable thing.