New Theatre Quarterly

Double Acts, Theatrical Couples, and Split Britches' ‘Double Agency’

Geraldine Harris 


In 2001 Split Britches presented a double bill entitled Double Agency, consisting of one new piece, Miss Risqué, and one already in their repertoire, It's a Small House and We've Lived in it Always – both works having been created in collaboration with the Clod Ensemble. In this article, Geraldine Harris re-stages her earlier encounter with Small House, in the light of seeing it again as part of the double bill, as a means of examining a number of issues concerning the work of Split Britches in general and its reception in the academic world. Particular consideration is given to the manner in which Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver's performances have been read in terms of their ‘real’ lives and relationship and the various ways in which this may reflect the preconceptions of the spectator–critic. Focusing on how their work reiterates specific theatrical traditions and conventions, Harris suggests that utopian tendencies in academic feminist criticism may have underplayed the ways in which, like many famous theatrical double acts, Split Britches constantly perform on the border – between tragedy and comedy, optimism and despair, fantasy and the possible, escape and entrapment. Geraldine Harris is a Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies at Lancaster University. Her previous publications include a number of articles on female practitioners in nineteenth-century French popular theatre and on gender issues in contemporary performance. Her latest book, Staging Femininities, Performance and Performativity (Manchester University Press, 1999), explored the relationship between feminist performance and a range of postmodern and poststructuralist theories.