Bloodless show risks replicating the misogyny it aims to fight | #students | #parents


Dan Spielman’s Jon overmasters the stage, giving an intricate portrayal of a man whose intellect and raffish charm are laced with entitlement. His third marriage is on the rocks – Jon is never consciously misogynistic, except in the past tense – and after battling his qualms into submission, he has casual sex with Annie, a 19-year-old first-year who idolises him.

It should be said Jon’s misconduct is professional rather than criminal. The relationship is consensual, though while Izabella Yena’s Annie isn’t sexually naive, her character seems wilfully blank, a tabula rasa of youth that’s disturbing in itself.

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She is a cypher, almost, her humanity dimmed by Jon’s self-obsession. You wonder what Jon sees in her. So does he, and the more relentless his internal dialogue, the closer the two-hander gets to becoming a one-hander. I was reminded of that acidic remark in Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, in which she observed that a lot of men don’t actually have sex, they just masturbate using a vagina.

That may be so, but it doesn’t justify wasting Yena’s talent. Anyone who saw her in Kerosene a few months ago – working a teenaged character into a vengeful fury over serious sexual misconduct – will know how massively this role shortchanges her.

And if director Petra Kalive draws a hypnotic performance of male entitlement from Spielman, she does little to ameliorate the play’s deadening lopsidedness. True, the problematic “male gaze” infecting Sexual Misconduct does get formally complicated by a final revelation, but the twist is so throwaway it feels like a gimmick.

Perhaps it might have worked better in a short story, but in theatre, a female character’s voice and perspective are inhabited by a real woman. A play that deliberately evades dramatising them at best squanders female talent, at worst risks replicating, rather than fighting against, the very misogyny it aims to critique.

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