The Canadian author Margaret Atwood famously said, ‘Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them’.
It’s this quote that I am endlessly reminded of when watching Gary McNair’s brilliant Locker Room Talk, a response to President Donald Trump’s claim that misogynistic comments of his about groping women were merely ‘locker room talk’, something to be dismissed as fun banter. To that end, McNair interviewed many, many men and boys from all age groups and backgrounds, resulting in hours of recording, which he then edited down and curated as verbatim theatre.
Directed by the wonderful Orla O’Loughlin, a terrific cast of four women- Caroline Deyga, Blythe Duff, Rachael Spence and Rehanna MacDonald- act as the anonymous men, reacting to their recorded voices on headphones, and imitating every puffed up bit of posturing, every derisory snort, every sneering cadence in the voice.
These men, right across the scale, are the embodiment of entitlement, ignorance and misogyny. It’s all too-familiar at times, with comments like ‘I just hate women, they’re trouble’ to more insidious claims around the pay gap (which apparently is a myth) feminism being all about misandry, and reference to ‘a plastic bag job’ (having sex with a woman while asphyxiating her so nobody would know you’d ‘had’ her for fear of the shame.)
The hits keep coming. And the guffaws, punches, and in one man’s case, a choking of his wife. Well, she was seeing someone else after all. This is all relayed as though he was nipping out for milk and bread. It’s sickening in its prosaic telling.
Preposterous, troubling and chilling as many of these accounts are, the adults are neatly juxtaposed with little boys and their comments that ‘women are weaker’. It’s here that the audience stops to pause between giggles at the actors’ cute approximations of the schoolyard stances. Where do such gendered assumptions begin? How do we persuade wee boys that being soft and emotional is okay? To tell little girls you can be strong and assertive? Then later, that so much gender is, as the late Diane Torr once said, ‘a social construct’?
Locker Room Talk challenges and provokes. It meets these questions head-on. It queries what ingrained behaviour future generations will inherit. There are, of course, no easy answers. But in the post-show discussion, chaired by Dr. Holly Davis, a young male student admits that his behaviour towards female students has been sexist, forcing him to re-evaluate his actions, and how they impact on the young women. If McNair’s show can change at least one mind… job done. But as I type this and look at the scar on my finger, left by an ex-boyfriend, I think, ‘We have a long, long way to go’. Gary McNair, any right-thinking man, and most of us, know this.