Masterclass, which has been on an award-winning international tour, playing at the Edinburgh festival in 2022, has finally been brought to London, supported by Culture Ireland and funded additionally by the Arts Council of Ireland. 


Masterclass is a witty cross-examination of ‘the great male artist’, bringing in questions of gender, masculinity, and dominance in the literary and theatre world and our everyday lives. It uncovers difficult truths about patriarchy and power in a comedy-infused play to bring tough conversions into a fun and laughable atmosphere. By making the play humorous, they can go into the depth of difficult subjects by showing just how obvious and fundamentally patriotic everyday situations are in the world we live in, and arguing that the great male artist needs to be on his way out of the industry (and so do the rest of us, apparently).


Feminist comic Adrienne Truscott plays a funny masculine Hemingway-esque playwright who is being interviewed by Feidlim Cannon but gives a masterclass which ends up with ‘him’ denying his patriarchal stories, violence towards ‘female characters’ in the plays, and becoming violent towards Cannon. The complex writer figure is presented through Truscott’s mannerisms, playing on misconceptions and truths simultaneously. Realism is incorporated here with Cannon idolizing Truscott’s genius, Truscott popping a cigarette into every part of her face, and re-enacting a sexist scene from one of the made-up horrendous plays. 


Both actors move around on stage frequently, and with just two actors in the whole play, Eddie Kay, Movement director, can effectively create scenarios and power dynamics through the actor's positions, and sound effects such as throwing a call and then hearing the sound of it crashing in the distance. Ellen Kirk’s set design is simple but effective with the use of the chairs for either sitting, standing on, or leaning against to create power dynamics, and having the table with the whiskey on in the middle.  


In the second half, the pair’s recital of the play turns into real life and there is a switch that at first seems like they are going off script, and then you soon realise this is just the impression they are giving. The turn goes from a comedic masterclass to a sudden argument between its real-world creators, as Truscott questions Cannon’s behaviour when they first met and during the making of the show that feeds into the topic of gender and power. It got a bit confusing at times but it was clear they were trying to appear as if they were off-camera when in fact it was part of the play. In the end, they both stayed on stage and wouldn’t move while a member of the crew cleaned around them; this was quite amusing, especially with the audience not knowing whether to get up and leave or stay. 


While some parts can seem absurd and slightly confusing, the play is intriguing and funny and offers a playful interrogation of who dominates the stage. 


You can see Masterclass at Southbank Centre until 12th May. 


Review: Cara Scott          Photo: Ste Murray