Sunday 21 May 2023

Stage: Fear and loathing

The Misandrist
by Lisa Carroll
dir Bethany Pitts
with Elf Lyons, Nicholas Armfield
design Cara Evans
lighting Peter Small
Arcola Theatre, Dalston • 10.May-10.Jun.23

This play's pointed title lurks in the subtext throughout the entire first act, revealing its ugliness only in subtle hints. Then later, it blossoms into a colourful rant of loathing that feels perhaps too deliberately provocative, even as the point is forcefully made. Playwright Lisa Carroll is cleverly depicting, rather than exploring, a collision of gender perspectives. So the play will spark important conversations.

It's a chronicle of a relationship, and it opens with Rachel (Lyons) awkwardly but cutely meeting Nick (Armfield) at a party. Their tentative one-night stand becomes an ongoing sex-based connection, then begins to shift into a relationship. Wounded by her drunken lout of a father and a recent breakup from a guy who cheated on her, Rachel isn't ready to trust the open-hearted nice-guy Nick, so she asks him to trust her instead. He enjoys letting her be dominant, but while she finds the security that's missing from her freelance work-life, he wants more.

Much of the dialog sounds like a stand-up routine, peppered with observational jokes about objects from Tupperware to dildos. And several sequences are actually delivered as stand-up sets, complete with hand-held microphones and spotlights, offering glimpses into how both Rachel and Nick feel about their relationship. This skilfully highlights variations in perspective as well as the truth behind the bravado, but it doesn't offer much actual insight into the characters.

Both actors are excellent, balancing the verbal and physical banter within characters who are both likeable and compelling. Lyons plays up Rachel's sardonic wit and resistance to affection, leading to an astonishing extended monolog that's delivered brilliantly as a spiralling list of grievances that are funny, honest and also rather cheap shots. By contrast, Armfield gives Nick an authenticity that's remarkably endearing. His only flaw is being too accommodating, as it were.

There's a problem with the way all of this comes together, because Rachel's root issues are so specific, and also somewhat obvious, that they eliminate any possible nuance in the narrative. But the staging, with its clever use of lighting, space and props, offers an inventive simplicity that helps the audience look through the material to the ideas underneath. So if the text seems to answer all of the questions it raises, there are plenty of points of identification that will leave us thinking.

For details, visit ARCOLA THEATRE >

photos by Charles Flint • 20.May.23

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