Wednesday 21 August 2019

Let Men Tremble review

Inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, experimental theatre company The Danger Ensemble's Let Men Tremble is a passionate exploration of just how much men have controlled, and continue to control, the minds, bodies and souls of women, and how women have had enough.

The cast of ten work extremely well together in keeping their energy up with some very difficult text and their impressive ability to slip in and out of characters. Alexandra Hines, Eidann Glover and Jane Cameron show masterful nuance in their roles, convincingly finding the comedy, the horror, and the something in between with the characters they portray. Danny Carroll and Leo Thompson display great physicality and expression with brilliant restraint throughout the production.

While the performances are the strength of this production, the content of the show and its execution of those themes is its weakness. Let Men Tremble gets stuck rehashing the same ideas during its 100 minute running time that leads to a frustration from the repetitiveness and the lack of excitement being generated. This frustration also stems from the fact that we have yet another work that is written, devised and directed by men that seems unsure of what to do with its female character other than make them be angry.

In one scene, a female character expresses her rage at all the stories that have been erased by men and declares that they will revolt and they will make sure these stories are told. Well, why don't they? Why doesn't The Danger Ensemble tell these stories instead of presenting us with material we are constantly seeing on our stage? At another point, a character informs us of the history of Ann Hibbins, a woman executed for witchcraft in 1656. They want to make sure we remember her story and her name, yet repeatedly tells us that their name is not important. Perhaps the point would be stronger if the scene didn't keep going back to this and simply focused on Ann. Ironically, what Let Men Tremble does is tell a feminist story that somehow still revolves around men. 

With death and murder permeating in this story, there is a powerful moment in the show when the cast speak the names of several women who have been murdered by men, women like Jill Meagher and Eurydice Dixon. There is no indication this will occur and on the evening I attended, an audience member became visibly upset as it took place, which beckons the question, where is the duty of care? Considering the likelihood that someone who knew these women could be in the audience and be triggered by the unexpected turn the show takes, some kind of warning was definitely required.

As stated by The Danger Ensemble, their work is often polarising and challenging. While Let Men Tremble will polarise audiences, it is unlikely to challenge them with ideas that have played out numerous times on stage that fail to add anything new to the discourse over women reclaiming ownership of their stories, their rights and their lives.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Season: Until 25 August| Tues - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm 
Tickets: $45 Full | $37 Conc | $30 Students/Under 30 
Bookings: Theatre Works 

Photo Credit: Morgan Roberts

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