We’re saturated with the idea of the great male artist; the kind who sit on a higher pantheon, can make the impossible possible before they’ve had their morning coffee and count the notches on their bedpost as a form of valediction. For centuries their apparent ‘greatness’ was seen as more interesting as the work they made, biographies covering their complicated love lives and temper tantrums in much more forensic detail than the work which always ended up a distant second. But in the wake of #MeToo, things have begun to change. Rather than be applauded, the whole thing now has that slightly whiffy smell of the ridiculous. It’s time for these statues to be shot down.
Which is what Eva Johansson and Louise Löwenberg’s satire has done so well. Basing their work on the true-life tale of two powerhouses of Swedish Theatre, actor Mikael Persbrandt and director Thommy Berggrrenn- who in 2010 announced their intention of staging ‘a masterpiece’ based on Persbrandt’s life, before dropping it without explanation- it explores what happens when two massive egos collide.
Yet, like all satire, it only works on a surface level. Though it’s very good at unpicking the common quirks of these ego driven men; the boorish self-centredness, the competitive friendship, the wary side-eyeing of success; over the course of an hour, it doesn’t delve deep enough to explore where this comes from. They’re caricatures, funny ones, and crafted to give a cold shiver of recognition to all who have found ourselves falling into some of these tropes at times, but not fully explored beyond their surface appearance. Over the course of an hour, you long to discover more.
Rosie Taylor-Ritson and Sophie Walter are however both thrillingly good at bringing these two egos to life. They bring to the table two sides of the alpha-male, Taylor-Ritson all coiled stillness and sudden violent explosiveness, Walter long angular movements and using language as a means to control a room. It’s a public dick swinging competition writ large, sometimes literally so as both performers take to pivoting their hips when it’s time to one-up their opponent.
Director Charissa Martinkauppi keeps the tension up, each shrill ring of a mobile from a frantic producer building the pressure cooker. It is no coincidence that this producer is female, nor that the stage management team that both dismiss are also so. It makes a point that while men are engaged in pointless points scoring, it’s the women with their hands on the tiller, ensuring we get to the destination. It’s a centuries-old game that’s got boring. As Walter lets her hair down and removes her padded paunch at the end, the sense of relief that she’s moved from a tired old man to confident, vibrant young woman is palpable. It’s a different world now and it’s about time.
The Greatest of The Greatest plays at the Wardrobe Theatre until the 11 May