Alice Birch's provocative examination of the way women are treated by language, history and the men in their lives was premiered in 2014 as part of the aptly titled Midsummer Mischief season at the RSC. Its stage directions include the instruction: "Most importantly this play must not be well behaved."
But in Erica Whyman's recast and elegantly staged revival, perhaps everything is just a little too well mannered. For all its ferocity it feels it is taking place in a clean bubble of consent, rather than offering a challenge to the messy real world.
The opening promises a lot. A man (Robert Boulter, the only man in the cast) is propositioning his girlfriend (Emmanuella Cole), telling her all the things he'd like to do to her, the fantasies he has about her body. At first she awkwardly acquiesces in this verbal onslaught of seduction, but then she asserts her rights - to equal language ("Make love with, not to") and all encompassing fantasies of her own. He shrivels in front of her eyes.
This exposure to the light of the meaning contained in every word, is even more startling in the second encounter between a man (Boulter again) and his outraged girlfriend (Beth Park) introduced by the caption on the screen behind the actors: Revolutionise the World (Do Not Marry). She compares his proposal of marriage to an invitation to take part in a suicide bombing. Simultaneously funny and shocking, it is beautifully written by Birch, with each word holding the power of an incendiary device. As everywhere, the actors deliver the lines with intelligent conviction.
Birch's words also remain like a scalpel throughout, but the energy somehow dissipates in the succeeding scenes which include a woman (Emma Fielding) being berated by supermarket security guards for taking all her clothes off in aisle seven - "you will have to pay for those melons" - in a protest about the objectification of her body and a family scene where a girl's reluctance to eat suddenly becomes even more violent.
The final scene, a babel of competing voices - asserts the notion that "the thought is not enough." And somehow, nor is this short play, however combative and thought-provoking.