Oh, how the stars align. The Network Theatre’s A Society (For The Cutting Up Of Men) is a perfect blend of Virginia Woolf’s 1921 short story A Society (comprising Act One) with Valerie Solanas’ infamous 1967 SCUM Manifesto (comprising Act Two), with brief interludes from Sappho and Audre Lorde. Despite an almost half-century between them, the texts prove eerily similar, because for many years, society has suffered under the same patriarchy (and wider kyriarchy). Perhaps, in this always-on age, we need this play now more than ever.
It comes as a surprise that the works were adapted by a man, Daniel J Carter (who also directs). It’s a clear certainty that Daniel is a turd; a lowly abject turd (in the SCUM Manifesto, men who wish to eliminate themselves are considered part of the Men’s Auxiliary, signing up with such a statement). Aside from a brief moment of context about the relationship between Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and Solanas (for the uninitiated, Solanas shot Warhol, with the shooting debilitating him for the rest of his life), Carter changes almost nothing to the original texts, making the similarities and shared gaze even more striking.
While the first half is played straight as a typical period piece, it’s through the interpretation of the SCUM Manifesto’s approach to misandry and labour abolition that the show truly grips your attention. Subjects touched in the manifesto are summed up in skits; from obvious parodying of David Attenborough’s work to show the male gender as animal, to scenes of scientific study and parades of phallic objects. One extremely memorable scene involves a critique of contemporary capitalist work culture, with the scene’s protagonist spiralling into insanity over the interviewers’ “girlboss” mindsets.
The eight-strong ensemble flourishes. Acting as the show’s anchor is Wendy Fisher, who plays the first half’s narrator, Cassandra, with a focused and honourable air. Eimear Lacey spends the play transforming into someone dainty and carefree, once she sheds her swoon-worthy Rose persona. Hannah Dormor also shines as the central Poll, deservedly commanding her presence, as well as serving wonderfully in the second half, in motion as a distracted partygoer.
However, the actress that truly shines amongst the cast is Linseigh Green, whose New York accent breathes ambitious life into the part of the unchaste Clorinda. By the time Act Two kicks into action, Linseigh perfectly fits the role of an ageing professor, delivering a boring lecture to the uni-minded with drill sergeant-esque poise.
The show comes with only minimal flaws. Firstly, the audio engineers left many cues ending abruptly, distracting multiple moments. As well, the direct adaptation of Woolf’s text in Act One made that particular act feel somewhat spacey against Act Two’s constant thrill.
In summary, A Society is a demonstration, a celebration of great art from those not usually considered Great Artists by virtue of being controversial women, extremely needed and essentially perfect.
VAULT Festival 2023 runs Tuesday 24th January to Sunday 19th March, full listings and ticket information can be found here.
This review was written by a participant of the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme in partnership with Theatre Weekly. For more information about the VAULT Festival New Critics Programme, and all of our 2023 participants, please visit: https://vaultfestival.com/new-critics-programme/