#TheFutureIsFemale. So said the Twitterverse on 16th July, when it was announced that ‘the Doctor’ in Doctor Who would be played by Jodie Whittaker. Coupled with the recent success of Wonder Woman on the big screen and the women’s marches around the globe post-Trump’s inauguration, there’s more than a grain of truth to this statement – a palpable change in the zeitgeist. The 17th July marked the beginning of the New Writing Festival at Baron’s Court Theatre, the opening satirical play being Speci-Man by Jayne Woodhouse.
Directed by Calum Robshaw, Speci-Man takes place in 3052, a world where men are an endangered species and the few that remain are studied for ‘scientific’ purposes. Dr Morgan Ellis (Vivien Glaskin) is alarmed by regressive behaviour of ‘Male26’ a.k.a. ‘Adam’ (David House) whose aggressive and sexist behaviour harks back to the early 21st century. Ellis calls in an ‘expert’, Dr Gwen Rhys (Catherine Irlam) who suggest using Pre-Millennium Recession Treatment to make Adam feel ‘valued’ just as men in general did in 2017. However, as Adam starts to feel more comfortable in his surroundings, Ellis undergoes a ‘regressive’ transformation herself – wearing high heels, make-up and making sure his chips are ready for him ‘after a hard day at work’…
As the belligerent Adam, House is every bit the vociferous ‘lager lout’ who can be found in any city. If there was any doubt to Adam’s true personality, his ‘warm-up’ interaction with the audience allows the full spectrum of his ‘charm’ to be viewed. Ellis’ character arc provides a prism to evaluate the behaviour of all – not necessarily to provide answers, but certainly to raise questions. Rhys makes a point about how the women in ‘pre-civilised’ times endured a lot of nonsense from men because they didn’t put their foot down. A ballsy statement indeed and one that’s easy to make when the number of men in the world (in the play at least) only amounts to double figures.
Woodhouse wears her influences on her sleeve as many of the scenarios and developments in the script can be traced to established futuristic tales and comedies. Ellis and Rhys treating Adam like he’s a primate harks back to the behaviour of Dr Zira in the original Planet of the Apes, while Adam’s ‘regressive’ behaviour is very much cut out of the same cloth as Oddbod, the ‘evolutionary throwback’ in Carry On Screaming! As for human sexuality, the separation of pleasure in the act of ‘sex’ from human procreation is a common-enough trope, though in terms of Speci-Man, Woodhouse’s inspiration is from another satirical Sci-Fi escapade from the ’60s – Barbarella.
The satire posts an oft-held hypothesis that a world where women holding all the key positions within the political arena and media would be problem-free and have a unified front. Theresa May is briefly mentioned, but not in relation to how she, Amber Rudd and Katie Hopkins have all made their mark nowadays, and their legacy. Even though the play’s a satire, acknowledging this ‘blip’ and demonstrating how the women of the future have progressed in relation to the past in its entirety would have grounded the play in a more well-rounded, concrete reality.
Speci-Man does provide many amusing moments, but it’s raison d’être as it were, is in highlighting what passes for acceptable behvaviour and questioning how much in what men and women do is nature versus nurture. There’s certainly a lot more that can be said on the subject, but as an ‘appetiser’, Speci-Man kicks the debate off.
© Michael Davis 2017
Speci-Man ran at Baron’s Court Theatre on 17th July. The rest of the New Writing Festival consists of:
● Tuesday 18th, 7.30pm C’est La Vie Written by Stephanie Silver, Directed by Emelia Marshall Lovsey.
● Wednesday 19th, 7.30pm Worsooz Written by Catherine Kay, Directed by Kevin Russell.
● Thursday 20th, 7.30pm Come Die with Me Written by Vicki Connerty, Directed by Shian Denovan.
● Friday 21st 7.30pm Walk of Shame Written by Stephanie Silver and Emelia Marshall Lovsey and Directed by Emelia Marshall Lovsey.
● Friday 21st 9pm Submission Written by Shafeeq Shajahan, Produced by Liver and Lung Productions.
● Saturday 22nd, 7.30pm 2022 Written and Directed by Colleen Pendergast.
● Saturday 22nd, 9pm The Staffroom Written and Directed by Michelle Payne.