Men Chase, Women Choose is a laugh-a-minute show, but it’s also a complex and layered one - so much so, in fact, that it would take me several paragraphs to fully explain the title. Suffice to say that it describes a theory of human sexual attraction, which once was widely accepted but is now regarded as dubious. Over the course of an hour-long mock lecture, Eve Shotton and Sophie Giddens explore this and other scientific mis-steps, outlining how they feed into society’s gender narratives… but relax, because this educational comedy is nowhere near as heavy as that makes it sound.
The set-up is both simple and entertaining. As part of a cross-disciplinary outreach programme, an actor (Eve) has been paired with a scientist (Sophie), who’s been researching how medicine and psychology have treated women through the ages. Sophie’s brought PowerPoint slides and an encyclopaedic memory; Eve’s brought showbiz and a loose approach to accuracy. Yet both are determined to expose “bad science”, and the gender-based hypocrisy it has led to.
The pairing works well. Shotton plays her actorly character mostly for laughs - over-confident, over-sharing, and shameless in upstaging her quieter co-host. Giddens’ scientist, meanwhile, starts off with a mouse-like reserve, but gradually finds her voice as she feeds off her partner’s extroversion. It’s a hugely satisfying character arc and, towards the end, it’s Sophie who delivers the more honest and believable emotion.
The mock lecture is funny, but informative too. The Greek belief in a literal “wondering womb” is despatched with humour, but by the time the narrative reaches the twentieth century there’s some real debunking to be done - such as a commendably approachable explanation of why the belief that women synchronise their menstrual cycles is mathematically unsound. With Sophie on hand to challenge Eve’s assumptions, we hear a balanced and well-argued exposition, which doesn’t gloss the fact that many of the more recent offenders were women themselves. But it’s not all academic rigour: there’s also a hilarious rap, some bravura bawdy humour, and an unexpected intervention from Sir David Attenborough.
A couple of sections didn’t sit quite so easily for me. One video segment, filmed in a swimming pool, is justified by the most tenuous of segues - I can’t help but think it’s there because it’s something they wanted to do, rather than because it fits the narrative. An outbreak of interpretive dance was promising, but wasn’t pretentious or ridiculous enough to hit the comic heights it wanted to. And I was genuinely confused by a sequence where Eve displays the symptoms of “hysteria”; having spent several minutes deconstructing that particular stereotype, she seems, albeit briefly, to reinforce it.
It’s also fair to say that there are no truly groundbreaking insights here, and the middle-of-the-road conclusion carries balance almost to a fault. But I don’t think this was ever meant to be a feminist firecracker; it’s a laugh-aloud character comedy, which is built around important points about gender narratives yet carries them relatively lightly. Best of all, there’s a touching undercurrent of mutual support, as Eve and Sophie learn and grow in response to each other. That’s an example to us all, I think - and this show is a fine example of how to both entertain and inform.