There are few more thankless tasks known to humankind than housework. You wash and wipe, dust and sweep, but every effort is in vain: skin continues flaking, meals need making, detritus gathers; blink and it's time to wash and wipe and dust and sweep all over again. Endless meaningless cycles without progress. No wonder patriarchal forces ordained domestic labour women's work.
It's typical of the playfulness of Domestic Labour: A Study in Love that its three female performers abandon the cycle of cleaning – with a wet cloth and a dry cloth – to pose on a bicycle, wedged incongruously in the ranks of an old-fashioned radiator. With huge coloured goggles and puffed-up hair, wielding ancient cotton-bag vacuum cleaners, the women look like models in a 1960s advertisement – an image they subvert by exploding an inner tube, makeshift insurgents enacting what small protest they can. Throughout, there are intriguing glimpses of women refusing to conform: in the memory of an Iranian grandmother who, outraged by new, progressive laws banning the chador, refused to be seen in public, instead criss-crossing the city via a ladder and its roofs; in lengthy extracts from the western Johnny Guitar, Joan Crawford sharp, self-possessed, “more man” than woman. The hangdog housewife whose voice dominates, longing for a room of her own yet not even allowed a desk, sounds insipid by comparison.
The women's stories sit on stage like pieces of broken china; it's not always clear what the connection is between them, or what generation or country they exist in. A male voice – also spoken by the female performers – could act like glue, but instead muddles the fragments of narrative further. He is Iranian, more concerned with distant revolution than dust motes on the furniture, apparently unaware of how unsympathetic he comes across. Does he really mean to suggest that his wife's pregnancy is a failing of character, since none of his previous girlfriends were so afflicted when he withdrew? The double-play with that word “withdrew” is subtle but acute. If we married in my country, the man assures his wife on their wedding day, you wouldn't be able to go out without my permission. Such are the consolations of geography.
If writer/director Mehrdad Seyf is the male force rupturing a female/feminist agenda, artist Chris Dobrowolski has a more positive influence, jolting proceedings with electricity. His fully functional helmets constructed from colanders and blenders, pedal-powered comic stunts, and ingenious solution to the need to screen Johnny Guitar, fill the stage with fun. Like a scene in which the sight of a bus at Marble Arch transports the male character to the heart of a revolution, Dobrowolski's wizardry lets us see the homely and banal in magical new ways. If only domestic labour itself could be as transformative an experience.