Locker Room Talk returns to the Traverse theatre after its acclaimed run in 2018. The piece was born out of research conducted by playwright Gary McNair who set about recording ‘what men really say about women when women aren’t around’. The project gets its name, of course, from the infamous comment made by Donald Trump in which he attempted to pass off misogynistic comments as mere ‘locker room talk’.
His dismissal betrays a misconception that his words could not do harm if not heard by women or that the views he holds about women are ubiquitously held by men. According to Locker Room Talk, however, it would seem they are.
McNair’s research is compiled to create the text of the play. The words of men interviewed either alone or in groups of friends or colleagues are relayed verbatim by four impressive actresses, Maureen Carr, Jamie Marie Leary, Gabriel Quigley and Nicola Roy. They perform whilst listening to the interviewees’ words through headphones, mimicking the tone and intonation they hear.
The overwhelming majority of comments are caricatures of base, ill-informed and un-nuanced misogyny. The men banter with each other and compete to be the most graphic or most vulgar. Their comments hold violent, sexually predatory intentions: for these men, women exist only to ‘cook and be f***ed’. They speak of scoring systems to ‘rate’ women’s looks with little shame or self-awareness. There was glee and even pride in some of their comments. These were not well-developed insights into the systemic misogyny ingrained in normally empathetic men. Not one discussion of feminism was articulate or well-informed.
Despite this, neither I nor, gauging by opinions voiced in the post-show discussion, any other non-male-audience-members, were surprised by what we heard. The interviews present opinions about women so abhorrent, so archaic and so clichéd that I could not bring myself to be enraged or offended. I was left just with melancholy. None of these views were new to the audience – I am well aware that there are men who hold and are willing to share, impose, and act upon their hatred, confusion, or predatory sexual attraction towards women.
When performed with finesse and nuance by the fantastic cast, many of the comments were almost comic (the comparison of women to ‘squirrels’ was a strong example). Having the words spoken by women underlines the absurdity of misogyny and confirms that we do hear what is said. Men may believe that they are out of earshot, but in this case, the recordings are directly in the actor’s ear. Thus, the performance asks male audience members, would you say such things, even for comic effect? Would you dare say them in front of a woman, and if not, why not?
There was an overwhelming lack of men interviewed who were willing to speak articulately about feminism or the damaging nature of ‘locker room talk’. A few did, but with little conviction. This was a key flaw in the structure of the play, as it confirmed Trump’s assumptions and presented a disproportionately bleak picture of gender relations. Much as I was unsurprised by the predominance of objectionable views, I was surprised by the absence of more informed ones. I know they exist, and some I believe were held in the audience. It would be foolish to believe otherwise. The piece needed alternative opinions, not to appease misogynists or to ‘soften the blow’, but to encourage a more nuanced conversation about what is an undeniably nuanced subject.
Leaving the theatre, I felt compelled to look further into McNair’s research, to find out how many men were interviewed, how many of those interviews were discarded from the script, the ages and occupations of the men interviewed, and how willing were they to be involved. The aim of the performance was to suggest that extreme misogyny is pervasive, but perhaps that is not enough for a female audience who live with and navigate the realities of this.
Nevertheless, this is utterly fascinating research performed with skill by the four actors. Locker Room Talk is certainly not perfect, but it is compelling to watch and contributes to a crucial conversation.
PHOTOS: Mihaela Bodlovic and David Monteith Hodge