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The Misandrist By Lisa Carroll at the Arcola Theatre

“I hate men,” Rachel (Elf Lyons) emphatically declares, despite having had sexual relations with Nick (Nicholas Armfield). A long list of things she hates about men follows. In mentioning a large number of pet hates, which range from manspreading on the London Underground to substantially shorter queues for public conveniences, the relatively superficial is mingled in with rather more serious concerns, such as crimes against the person and excessively lenient sentences for such crimes.

The MisandristThe impression is therefore given in what comes across as a stream of consciousness that Rachel equates, for instance, domestic violence with unfunny jokes. What was particularly baffling was that many of the ‘hates’ weren’t part of the storyline until this rambling monologue in a late scene, and many of them weren’t referred to afterwards. Still, if a show is to be called The Misandrist, it might as well justify its title one way or another.

Rachel didn’t come across as consistently convincing as a misandrist: her ‘commands’ in one of several (clothes on, fortunately, or unfortunately) ‘pegging’ scenes for Nick to get on his knees could, frankly, have been fiercer, or at least louder. Nick talks of being terrified of her, and she replies she is not a scary person – I can’t help but agree with her. But her apparent misandry was largely if not entirely non-threatening, and when she describes Nick as “weak”, the same label could also apply to herself.

The play does, at least, challenge some general assumptions about male/female dynamics in a relationship – when the words and actions of Rachel’s father have a negative impact on her, it’s Nick that invites her to talk, and Rachel that refuses, doubling down and wanting to carry on as if nothing happened. She’s the one who buys gifts for him and, aside from their first encounter, she obtains consent for her agenda for bedroom activity rather than him for his. And, as the dialogue repeatedly reminds the audience, she’s taller than him (though not by nearly as much as the script implies).

Each scene has its title displayed on a screen – examples include ‘OMG Actual Sex’ and ‘I Am Totally Fine (Except For the Tornado of Rage Inside Me)’. The former, for the record, is performed in a way that still leaves much to the audience’s imagination. It’s a London-based story presented in a London theatre, and there are hooks in the narrative for the audience to identify with. Rachel’s landlord sells up, for instance, and she struggles to find somewhere suitable at an affordable price, supply and demand being what it is.

It’s one of those productions that uses microphones selectively. It wasn’t always clear to me exactly what purpose the microphones served (other than being phallic-shaped objects in a show about sexual exploration), and as the characters’ voices echoed around the auditorium, they were less clear than when they spoke unamplified.

Some laugh-out-loud moments, thanks to both characters’ acerbic wit, keep the audience entertained, and direct addresses to them help to maintain interest. A couple of other perspectives are introduced and suitably voiced – Rachel’s supervisor Fiona should really have a separate play written about her own exploits in bed, while Nick’s friend Eddie acts, for the purposes of the narrative, mostly as a sounding board through which Rachel, and therefore the audience, learns a thing or two about Nick that wouldn’t otherwise have been revealed.

Overall, it could be trimmed down to a ninety-minute, no-interval performance – some details about, for example, what Rachel put on social media and what Nick’s gym and recreational substance activity was, were ultimately superfluous. Still, the cast do well with what they are given, and provide some (ahem) energetic and enthusiastic performances.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

When “intimidating” Rachel and eternal “nice guy” Nick meet at a sticky-floored bar in Piccadilly, what was meant to be a one-night-stand becomes a sexual odyssey of self-discovery… and mutual destruction.

As they navigate their situationship, Rachel decides it’s time to TAKE BACK CONTROL. Can some playful, passionate pegging provide a pathway of discovery to new parts of themselves, and each other?

Presented by Simon Paris, Oliver Seymour and George Warren for Metal Rabbit Productions
The Misandrist
By Lisa Carroll
Directed by Bethany Pitts
10 May – 10 June 2023

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