Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Georgie Grace responding to Post: Everything I know about the global financial crisis in one hour

There’s a song on Laurie Anderson’s 2010 album Homeland titled only an expert. In her inimitable vocal, half said, half sung, she wryly repeats:

Now only an expert can deal with the problem
Because half the problem is seeing the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

One thing everyone knows about the global financial crisis is that it’s a problem. We exist in a world that breeds problems - which require experts. So who are the experts who can deal with the problem? Apparently not Post, who state that they are (a) not experts on the subject and (b) decided not to do any research. They didn’t want to know. They wanted to spend an hour appearing to make it up, out of scraps of information they had acquired inadvertently, osmotically, from the atmosphere of problems. 

They were pretty sure the crisis kicked off with some mortgages sold by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which, improbably, are real companies), that people couldn’t repay (leading to problems), but this initial point of fact leads to a sprawling, projected napkin diagram that returns equally regularly to corn and Hasbro games. Coincidences, incidental similarities, and misunderstandings escalate and get knitted into an absurd, tenuous narrative. The more it gets repeated and the more champagne they consume, the more they seem convinced by themselves. 

It’s basically three women on stage getting drunk and talking shit about how everything is connected. 

And it doesn’t make sense because, as promised, they don’t really know anything about the financial crisis, which is kind of funny because we probably don’t either, because - honestly - we get that it was something to do with mortgages, but beyond that the whole thing makes about as much sense to us as a napkin diagram produced by three drunk women slightly obsessed with corn. 

Which, as a piece of theatre, seemed a bit straightforward, a bit fleeting. It wasn’t really as funny as I thought it would be. Maybe it was funnier for them, because they made it up when they were drunk and they all know each other. 

But let's compare them the real experts, who caused a lot of problems by talking shit about the value of some valueless financial products, wound up crashing an insanely interconnected economy and then (however improbable this ought to be) drinking a lot of champagne paid for by you and me, and feeling very pleased with themselves. 

Only an expert can cause those kinds of problems. 

Look at it again: three performers are on stage. You gave them your money, you’re sat obediently in your seat, you’re listening, and now they’re acting like experts. They’ve spun you a ridiculous story that you don’t believe, and after an hour one of them looks at her watch - actually no, looks at a watch she borrowed off an audience member at the beginning of the show - and tells you time’s up, the end. The show is over.

Now back to real life: you’re sat on your seat, looking at the experts on your screen, and all you get is a vortex of rehashed explanations by people known for their consumption of champagne. These experts demand a hasty binge of bailouts, bill you for them, and thank you with blanket austerity policies. Done deal. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it, because - let’s face it - you’re not an expert, and you’re not on the screen; and it doesn’t matter if you have questions or you think this is ridiculous, or if you want your money (or your watch) back. The show is over. Tickets are non refundable.

And this is very funny for a group of friends who all know each other. But not so funny for you.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Eva Aymami Rene responding to Idiot-Syncrasy by Igor and Moreno

Igor and Moreno are two London-based performance artists who make work together since 2007. With their presence and their voices, this couple makes political statements about bodies that become visible.

Idiot-Syncrasy is Igor and Moreno’s endeavour to change the world with a performance, ‘but they felt like idiots’. Instead they jump, sing and embrace on stage, as if this may not change the world in another way. 
The performance begins in silence. Igor and Moreno appear from the backstage and walk towards the audience, stopping front stage. They stand still, staring at each of us, the audience members. I begin to enjoy the silence and the meticulous looking at their faces, at their bodies, at the details of their hairy legs etc. For some long-eternal minutes the performers and the audience look at each other.

Whispering a Sardinian folk song, Moreno breaks the silence, followed by Igor’s tones on the same song.  A progressive jumping appears on their bodies. From the vertical to the horizontal space, their bodies create choreographies of migrations. Appearing from one curtain to the other, shaping their bodies similarly, with their constant jumps, these two performers celebrate life, traditions and innovation.

Igor and Moreno’s bodies meet left stage and for a moment they stop jumping. Their bodies touch, embrace in an intimate moment. While the two male bodies care for each other, they sign love songs simultaneously in Spanish (Igor) and in Sardinian (Moreno). Finally, the bodies move a part and take us back to the jumping point. They may have not changed the world with this performance. But certainly, Igor and Moreno provided poetic paths from where to re-interpret it. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

John Bourassa responding to Idiot-Syncrasy by Igor and Moreno

Dancers can watch dance in an almost participatory way; they physically empathise as they observe, virtually feeling the movement more fully than the rest of us. Thanks to mirror neurons, which can activate the same parts of the brain whether we are doing an action or merely observing it, the more experienced we are at performing a movement, the more our brains engage while watching it. In a limited way, we become the football player, the character in the video game, the dancer.
At the The Cambridge Junction last week, I got a glimmer of what that experience might be like for dancers thanks to Idiot-Syncracy, Igor and Moreno's distillation of Sardinian and Basque folk dancing and chant into a strikingly simple, modern form.
We all know how to jump; and for most of the performance the London based dance duo did just that: they simply jumped up, down and around. I found myself jumping along with them in my mind, cast back to boxing or basketball practice, to playground games, to bounding around as a small child.
By itself, this might seem minimal to the point of silliness, but Igor and Moreno manage to engage most of their audience throughout using a range of smart, simple tactics.
Before starting, the two young men in mundane sportswear stand still and deliberately make eye contact with every member of the audience. Eventually, they begin chanting a rather beautiful Sardinian folk song that -- like the staging and the “dance" itself -- is distilled to its essence, varied slightly and repeated. Slowly, gradually they add movement: the trembling of a hand, the beginning of a step, challenging us to anticipate and discover the next move. Then the jumping starts.
We are asked to focus and we do: on gestures, rhythms, the sound of feet, infinite small variations on the jump as they weave in and out of the large white sheets that background the show's natural, minimalist aesthetic. They fall in and out of synchrony.  They change clothes while jumping; Moreno casually discards his track suit, Igor carefully folds his away in a small gesture of character and individuality. They dance mostly for us, occasionally for each other.
The performance is largely done without background music, the songs are a cappella. The jumping itself seems chant-like, almost ritualistic in its repetition and variation. I start hearing - perhaps imagining - rhythmic patterns in their steps. Where the focused mind can't find a pattern it creates one.
At one point they do add a loud low hum over the speakers  -- a seemingly Brownian noise that evokes an industrial threat to their playfulness -- and they seem to lose their way. There's a political point being made here in the clash of folk tradition and mechanism, but I would have preferred they kept to silence and footfalls.
As things threaten to flag, they bring out the alcohol, hopping between the seats and sharing with everyone, gathering us in again with another gesture borrowed and simplified from folk traditions. It’s naive fun, and it works.
They sing some more, in Basque this time, vary their moves, dancing more traditionally now. I occasionally get the feeling that they don't trust the audience's ability to enjoy the simplicity of it all. The show has a hazy narrative flow, a succession of fleeting gestures of joy, sadness, humour, frustration, longing, triumph. I'm glad when they just go back to jumping. The occasional nervous laughter in the audience hints that they may be right to make a few nods to mainstream dance, but I think it's unnecessary.
I wonder what the dancers in the audience think of all this. Is it too simple for them? There certainly isn't any of the usual breath-catching virtuosity for them to admire -- even thrill to -- as their mirror neurons fire away.

But maybe we clumsy mortals have had a chance really to focus on bodies in motion, to empathise and engage in ways that we rarely do with more complex dance. Igor and Moreno say that they felt like Idiots when they thought up a show about just jumping. They needn't have, the whole thing is remarkably clever and captivating.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Rosalind Bouverie responding to Idiot-Syncrasy by Igor and Moreno

Igor and Moreno gaze into the audience. Their song, soft at first, rouses to passion. In the silence afterwards they stare forwards and begin their synchronous bounce.

Anoraks are unzipped, jeans and trainers come off. We hear the sure pulse of their feet. They bounce apart and come back alongside. When one leaves the stage, we feel paired with the other. When the twosome resumes, we feel their unison.

They pant. Tension builds as they punch arms to a climax of energy. After, their arms flop alongside, it feels easy. No synchrony here, relief comes for one, then the other. But their feet stay in rhythm. They share a drink with each other .With big grins they bring us bottles and glasses. We offer drinks to each other, brief pairings in the auditorium.

In an intense heartbeat of electronic sound, their arms rise up and push into space as if plunging into water to swim. They turn and brush their bare feet along the floor like bulls. Still twinned, their moves speak of freedom.

Eye contact that seemed only for us is now offered to the other. They get so close they clasp, still turning. In the low yellow light one is lifted by the other on his back, then, legs are wrapped round,   and heart against heart embrace. As they turn, we see the carrier’s face and the one who is carried.

Now in the silence again, they’re stepping, not bouncing, like molecules moving in pattern. Sometimes one is faster than the other. They come to a sudden stop.

Igor and Moreno bounce out the pleasures and perils of unison with one another; they tease out where idiosyncrasy and love lie within the rhythms of human life. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

John Bourassa responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

Let's be honest: I generally don't even read theatre reviews, much less write them.
I joined this group because I want to help create and support new work and new audiences and to find ways to understand what makes them both tick.
But I do love theatre, or more accurately I’ve fallen in love with enough individual theatre works — or even just fleeting moments in performances — to sustain a belief that the medium is not entirely hopeless.
Theatre can be the most direct, personal, courageous, thoughtful, alive and complete way of communicating - at least in public.
To preserve that directness, I avoid reviews before a performance. I see work because I trust the company, director, venue, author, designer or performer (roughly in that order) or because I just need to take a risk. Also I'll see anything Dutch or Belgian...don't ask.
So this is not really a review. I won't be rehashing things much or writing for some imaginary reader who hasn't seen the show.
Instead I’d like to open a discussion about context, because for me Domestic Labour was more a study of context than of love.
Unfamiliar with 30 Bird's work, I came to Domestic Labour with precious little context to work from. The show would have to provide it for me.
Its opening tableau's simple staging, static performers and faux-Philip-Glass soundtrack, immediately placed it in the tradition of festival-based, movement-oriented, mainly visual performance art: competent, professional, with few surprises. Though the hoovers did intrigue me.
The ensuing text had flashes of poetry, effective rhythms, a certain playful muscularity. Studiously scattered, it forswore character, individualised voice, often even gender as far as I could tell. Not much context there, other than a pretty close adherence to the post-millennial fashion for abstraction and snippets of storytelling that never quite cohere.
The text worked as sound in much the same way as the staging worked as visuals: both sought to show, not to explain or contextualise.
It doesn't always work:  The use of the "Johnny Guitar" clips seems largely incidental: though the clash of its stagey feminist sensibilities and the macho context of fifties westerns is apposite,  the choice of Joan Crawford is a bit too Wooster Group/hipster for my taste.
But on the whole the effects work as intended: they are fleeting, evocative, cumulative. The everyday familiarity of the work's focus - house cleaning - certainly helps make the whole seem direct and unpretentious, even reassuring. The performances and staging - the interactions between woman and machine - are sometimes funny, surprising, genuinely fluid and appealing even in their occasional awkwardness. I was never bored and found the whole, umm, …sort of seductive. I did keep wishing one of the hoovers would suddenly explode in a cloud of dust - the way violence can suddenly explode on to domestic life in much of the world; the pop of the inner tube fell flat for me.
That said, the text's forays into expatriate life, Iranian history and feminism seemed almost peripheral in their steadfast refusal to cohere. Unlike some of you, I see this as more of a conscious choice than a failing, an attempt to avoid the pitfalls not just of narrative but of context itself. Theatre is at least a decade into a post-dramatic struggle against narrative, but this show seeks to go a little further into both abstraction and, paradoxically, concreteness. Abstract because both its form and content lack clear definition, concrete because we are given a succession of very specific textual, physical, and mechanical coups de theatre. What we aren't given is a way to think about all this: consistent characters, voices, timelines, histories, places, story, even ideas. We aren't given contexts. Context can be misleading, it can confine how and what we think, feel and see. It often blinds us to life as it is lived and experienced. It asks us to imagine through art instead of experiencing it, to think we understand a bit more of, say, "life in Iran" instead of just listening to its individual voices, juxtapositions, questions, lives, vacuums.
That said, I might have found its voices more direct and compelling if they seemed a bit more contemporary.
Maybe it's because I come from Quebec, which has in recent decades become one of the most feminist societies in the world. Complaining that men don't do housework strikes me as very 1954. Which reminds me, I have some hoovering to do.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Joy Martin responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

 A ‘Review’ by Joy L. Martin

The night after I saw Domestic Labour: A Study in Love by Cambridge theatre company 30 Bird, I dreamed that I was holding a vacuum cleaner to my ear like a conch shell and listening for the sea…

The show begins with three women standing on the stage, each holding an upright vintage hoover in her arms.  They were already standing there as I handed my ticket to the usher and walked to my seat, like statues witnessing the busy scene of the audience filling the theatre.  Then the house lights darkened, the stage lights came up, and music began to play as the women started moving.  The music reminded me of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach: it was pointillist, energetic, repetitive, hypnotic, and at points, as in Glass’s work, a man’s talking voice speaking fragments of sentences appeared in the music, barely discernible.  The one phrase I could make out was ‘change the sheets, 1, 2, 3, 4…’  The women were busily hoovering, moving props onto the stage, gathering more vacuum cleaners - a dozen or so - and arranging them in a circular display in one corner of the stage.  Then, after this constant bustle, the music stopped, and they all fell down. 

As you will guess from the title, one of the preoccupations of the piece was domestic labour – specifically the domestic labour expected of and performed by women. The flyer for the show said that it was ‘a love story between a man and a woman, East and West, about the mundane and the monumental, the personal and the political, the dust behind the bed, and the Iranian baby boom.’  But, to me, story as a dramatic element in this piece felt somewhat faint in comparison to the other, more vivid elements of the piece. 

The show had a rich visual language created by the movements of the three women and their interactions with props – vintage hoovers, bicycles, radiators, pith helmets, fountains of dust, bombs, a television.  A love story did eventually emerge in the piece, but it was a highly abstract performance that felt almost like theatrical pointillism, so the love story was faintly superimposed upon the work in fragments of narrative, which slowly accumulated by the end of the piece to form a picture of a relationship between an Iranian man and an English woman. 

These poetic fragments were interspersed with thoughtfully choreographed vignettes depicting the women doing highly significant, abstract things which explored the themes of the piece – they cleaned, made a dust-fountain powered by a bicycle lodged in a radiator, cleaned again, acted out underground revolt culminating in setting off a bomb, and held up a television set playing the film Johnny Guitar for long, absorbing moments.  But although the marketing blurb set up an expectation in me for hearing a story about love which did not feel fulfilled, the lush, provocative abstraction of the piece created a fertile space for exploring a different theme, and the way it did so was engaging, fascinating – and fulfilling in a different way. 

The issue of housework and its relationship to women – and their relationships – felt like the largest theme under contemplation by the show; this felt like the subject of the show, with love, multi-nationalism in love, parental love, Iran, and politics all sub-elements filling in the aesthetic background, and branching off from this main theme.  It felt as if the flyer blurb could have said the show was about ‘the dust behind the bed, and how dust falls upon love, how it symbolises the mundane and the monumental, the personal and political…’
But here I need to depart from the frame of expectations I have set up by calling this article a ‘review’ and declare a staggering, leaning, wounded perspective surrounding my experience as a watcher of the show, and as the writer of this article. I wonder if the strength of my response to the show’s depiction of domestic labour was exaggerated – and my ability to pick up the elements of a ‘love story’ minimised – because I am a woman, and I have lived through thousands of moments of irritation at the way the boring, menial, repetitive, time-consuming chores of life are pushed disproportionately onto women.  A rant is rising, which I am going to choose, thoughtfully, not to suppress:

The way advertisements for cleaning products always feature women = irritant.  The phrase ‘women’s work’ = irritant.  The way my ex-husband’s mother told him never to help me with the housework because it was ‘my job’ = irritant.  The way the other men I have been with have also not been taught the value, practice and rhythms of keeping their environment clean by their mothers and fathers = irritant.  The way these men have harboured unconscious expectations for me to do more housework than them = irritant.  The history of female suppression stretching back hundreds, no, thousands, of years in our society leading up to this moment of improved but incomplete re-valuation of women, and which is symbolised by the women in the cleaning advertisements = irritant.  IT’S NOT FUCKING FAIR!!!!
[Long pause for breathing]
[Still breathing, head down, hands clenching each other]
[More breathing]
These moments have accumulated like dust in my psyche…so perhaps I was watching the show through a dusty lens.  Domestic Labour: A Study in Love was written by a man, Merhdad Seyf, which I didn’t realise until after the show.  I didn’t know the gender of the name ‘Merhdad’, and I assumed it was written by a woman.  And this made me wonder if Mehrdad also wrote the marketing blurb, and if through his eyes, the show was more about love than it was about dust. 

To me, this is an interesting question, which is about the power and purpose of theatre and the way conscious and unconscious elements dance with each other in the artistic imagination. 

The show’s flyer lists a historical consultant, Dr Lucy Delap, who collaborated with the piece, and her area of research is domestic labour, so it is clear that the intense statement of the dust theme – through music, props, movement, title, script – was highly conscious.  But I kept wondering about the inability of the love theme to reach me through all of the dust.  I wanted to hear about love; my expectations were primed for love by the flyer -- I love hearing about love…but all I could hear, care about, or engage with during and after the show was the dust. 

I wonder, with a fervent wish to honour Merhdad as a male artist who has made a powerful piece of theatre about the stifling of feminine power by domestic labour, whether the love theme of the piece was intended to shine more brightly out of it than it did to me.  I wonder if in Merhdad’s psyche and imagination, the luminance of the love theme has a different relationship with dust, and whether Merhdad has less dust in his psyche, because he is a man.  I wonder how conscious or unconscious most men are of the accumulated dust in women’s psyches around this question.  It can be difficult to truly grasp the extent of psychic damage done to someone else by an experience if you haven’t experienced it yourself – however, it is extremely encouraging that men are beginning to ask, to enquire about this, to imagine, empathise, create around this issue. 

It is probably my own psychic woundedness that craves full empathy, and feels suspicious about Merhdad’s ability to truly feel how I feel…  But then, I am white, and Merhdad is Iranian.  So, we are all on a merry-go-round of experience with different elements, different potential vulnerabilities to unconsciously embedded patterns of suppression or hurts in society, like female suppression, or racism.  From this whirling vantage point, it feels easier to simply thank him for caring, for asking, for creating, and to see him, rather than as a man or Iranian, as an Artist.

And aside from those (unanswerable) questions, the show affected me very powerfully.  It was Good Art.  It totally absorbed me, and I enjoyed the absorption.  It was deliciously poetically abstract, which allowed for questions to be thrown into the air, like the dust fountain from the bicycle, and they were important questions: How have women been affected by domestic labour? How has love between men and women been affected by it?  How dusty are we all?  What would love between men and women be like, if we cleaned our long, sad history of female suppression off of it?  This last question is the one I wonder most deeply about…as I wrote at the beginning, the night after I saw the show, I dreamed that I was holding a vacuum cleaner up to my ear like a conch shell and listening for the sea.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Kata Fulop responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

Domestic Labour: A Study in Love, the 30 bird Productions’ visual theatre peace, welcomed the packed Cambridge Junction’s audience with a series of beautiful images. “How cool” screamed my inner voice as the three actresses posed with vacuum cleaners as heavy war weapons. The text, voiced by the actresses and a recording of a man, recalled things being left behind and ordered, just to be left behind again and to be ordered again. It was so clever, so beautifully structured. I fancied the first staccato repetitions looping the three women and the vacuum cleaners together to tell us a story of love. Then, just as my thoughts started to emerge from their world to consider my lack of love for cleaning and washing, I was struck by the cleverly engineered bike meets vacuum cleaner, freedom meets girl image. However, as the dust particles settled, image by image, loop by loop the show gained a laborious quality.

Why so laborious? Let me say that I do not see theatre as purely a form of entertainment, and I am willing to work.  Yet the show was a first draft of a study: a rather clever attempt crammed with masses of academic theory trying to do too much.  The Iranian revolution, material culture and feminism, technology and feminism, domestic labour, women’s roles, a love story were all themes that seemingly cried for my brain’s attention. In this quest, I missed that men’s relationship to feminism were crucial part of the study and that there was no apparent war being waged.  It is a pity, I would have loved to know more about a man’s perspective. All in all, the show for me was a beautifully wrapped but unfinished study which confirmed my endless fascination with war stories.

Molly Flynn responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

As a big fan of both feminism and vintage-home appliances, I was really looking forward to watching 30 Bird's latest production 'Domestic Labour: A study in love'. In the play, three women recite the story of  a man and a woman and the intricacies of their relationship. The performers speak in the first person as they recount the couple's history. However, the texts are divided between the three women onstage and delivered in that rather distant, somewhat monotone style that says 'WE'RE NOT ACTING! HEY YOU, AUDIENCE, WE'RE NOT ACTING!' Partly for this reason, it was difficult to follow the narrative and to hold onto who was speaking from when and where.

You see, the stories travel across generational and national borders. One moment we are in the couple's modern day suburban home and the next we find ourselves in pre-revolutionary Iran. Well, in fact we never really find ourselves in any of the places presented onstage. The nonchalant traversal of temporal and spatial configurations, in combination with the emphatically non-illusory style of delivery, keeps the audience at arm's length. And from such a distance, it proves challenging to decipher much of a linear narrative.

But no matter, linearity be damned. Who needs a straight-up story when you've got a collection of wonderful retro-home appliances lying around? The show is billed as a collaboration between the writer/director Mehrdad Seyf and the visual artist Chris Dobrowolski, and indeed, it is the visual aspect of the play that really stays with you. Throughout 'Domestic Labour', the performers use their collection of vintage vacuums, bicycles, and other white goods to stage stunning-steam-punk tableaus of domesticity. The thing is, it takes a lot of work for them to build these fleeting moments of beauty.

The three women onstage spend most of their time pushing around the vacuum cleaners, plugging in their lightbulb helmets, fitting the bicycle wheel into the re-purposed radiator, etc. And it makes you wonder, is it really worth it? And perhaps this is the point. You are reminded of all the women, all across the globe, who perform that domestic labour day after day. You think of all the women you know, who spend years on end cleaning the same floors and folding the same laundry and, if you're lucky, you can think of some who do it out of love. Because the play's title is true, domestic labour can be a study in love.

As anyone who has tried it knows, to 'keep house' means so much more than just cooking and cleaning. To create and maintain a family home is undoubtedly a creative act that takes commitment, diligence, talent, and most of all, love. Because those fleeting moments of beauty in life, those take a lot of work, a truth that is adeptly represented in 30 bird's staging of the show.

But where, I wondered in my viewing of the performance, where is the love? I see the domestic labour. I see the inter-generational and cross-national complications. I see three women who are constantly kept busy with the seemingly mundane tasks of the everyday. But why? Why do they keep performing for us with so little passion. Is this what's come of feminism? No. It can't be. It can't be that after all these years of fighting for equality, we are still helplessly relegated to the realm of the domestic sphere, can it?

Those women onstage, why don't they stop vacuuming, I thought. Why don't they say something unexpected. Please, I pleaded with them in my imagination, just laugh too loud or make a mistake or fart or do something, anything, that tells us you are real!!!! But they didn't. They stayed steely and continued to perform their domestic labour. A shame really, because they seemed so smart and talented. They just never showed us the love.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

And from Maddy Costa...

The workshop alongside Domestic Labour: A Study in Love was led by Maddy Costa:

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.

Georgie Grace responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

Three women are holding vacuum cleaners. Old vacuum cleaners, upright, fabric bags. Spotlit, draped with cables. Not only holding - wielding, cradling, baring, placing, clutching, embracing, balancing. How many ways can you deal with the same thing? How many ways can you accommodate it? These heavy vehicles, associated with solitary, hard-work housework, are moved, shifted, driven, arranged. In six hands they have become an animate multitude, a herd.

This multiplicity is transformative. Not only of the devices, but of the stories whose props they might be. What seems to be a monologue, the story of one women, is performed by three women, three voices. Sometimes there is a you (you said this, or did that) and the you is her husband, but it seems that his voice can come out of any of the three mouths. The multiplicity - a monologue cut three ways and passed around rapidly - has a magical quality. The idea of domestic labour (I change the sheets; I wipe the surfaces - first with a wet cloth, then with a dry cloth; I put away our daughter’s toys) seems to be made into its own opposite: it’s no longer solitary, repetitive, boring, thankless; it’s a choreographed team effort, actions that bounce from one pair of hands to the next, a game with the world of objects. The music is heroic. The vacuum cleaner sucks up the dust and then belches it all out in an exuberant explosion and the women, wearing goggles, appear unperturbed.

Domestic labour, like so much labour, repeats and repeats. It is a constant recreation of the present. The vacuum cleaner spits out all the dust it sucks up in a great plume of recirculation. As with so many jobs: I put the goods on the shelves, people buy them; I put more goods on the shelves, people buy them. I have a vivid memory of one day at school. I had to carry a message to the science teacher and while I was waiting for him to notice me and ask me what I wanted, I realised that he was teaching the year below me - and teaching them exactly the same thing that he had taught me, a year earlier. It sounds so obvious. Of course taught the same thing every year. It was new to us, but endlessly the same for him. Hoovering up the same dust over and over again.

Back on stage, episodes are recounted, then interrupted: we go on holiday to the South of Spain, you refuse to eat fish (interlude: an inner tube is inflated, and explodes); we collect our daughter from the hospital. Their sequence is unclear; we’re lost in time. Why three voices? Are they different women? The same woman? Are they one woman who wishes she was three people?

Maybe next time I have to vacuum I’ll pretend there are two more of me and I’ll have much more fun. Maybe what’s missing from my domestic routine is a helmet with a blender attached; perhaps if I made one I could partake in this playful, fantastical transformation of hybrid devices and escape the feeling of having done this too many times before? Because who wouldn’t rather play than vacuum? These objects belong to adult tasks but are appropriated and retooled as things for play, becoming dysfunctional, figurative, ridiculous. As when playing, the structure of the piece seems aimless, impulsive, alternately serious and distracted. We shift from the temporally indeterminate (a frog enters the house) to the definite (I watch the revolution on TV), delivered with equal gravity.

Everything is always in the present tense. A grammar of the past, relived and recirculated. Whether it’s the history of a country or of a relationship, the past is constantly brought into the present, repeated, reiterated. Whether it haunts us, disorients us, or secures us somehow, remains unclear.

Rosalind Bouverie responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

A poem written after watching ‘Domestic Labour: a Study in Love’.

I saw old fashioned sharp angled pastel coloured hoovers
Cradled and slung over shoulders and pushed forward ready to clean.

Pop! goes one hoover and an old tyre explodes
Hoovers are pointed like guns.
There are whisks and cafetieres on helmets on heads
An arsenal here. How does housework advance?

There’s plenty of awkward bending and switching,
Switching and bending. Watch out for those wires.
There are guaranteed interruptions
With the on switch and the off switch.

Women who can’t talk to each other or look at each other stand up
Fall down, dash, chase, rest on their backs and watch their feet do a little dance
Postures of children and babies break to a heroic stand in goggles by a bike.
There’s valiant pedalling. Pan and radiator clamp the bike into stillness.
With such grasping appliances, there’s no getting anywhere.

I hear snatches of tales told in the flattest of cadences:
The wrong restaurant in Spain
The slapping of a woman by a policeman in Iran, the sighting of a demonstration on a bus in London,
The rescue of a frog by a dad, the buying of a white bike.
Shorn experiences die amidst the paraphernalia of wire and machine.

Later, a kneeling woman cradles a television.
Now Joan Crawford commands me. Gosh that lipstick is red!
In a white dress by a tiny piano with a bright brown backdrop I hear her say
‘You can’t make me marshall.’
 Is the dialogue of film the best line?

A wondrous moment! All the dust from the hoover is blown upwards catching the light in a golden cloud!
It lands on the faces of the women below and they don’t wipe it off!
I am pleased to hear their breathing through the megaphones.

Get curious and find out their names. Blood and temper of life will flood back. Get furious. 

Leanne Moden responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

As I entered the theatre, ready to watch Domestic Labour: A Study in Love, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I think it’s fair to say that I’m something of a novice when it comes to writing about performance. In fact, before embarking upon this series of theatre writing workshops, my main experiences of the genre had been regular trips to Christmas pantomimes, punctuated by the odd Shakespeare play.

Suffice to say that I felt a little out of my depth.

I needn’t have worried though. Domestic Labour: A Study in Love is a compelling piece of theatre, staged with wit, humanity and humour, using the concept of domestic drudgery as a tool to examine cultural and social attitudes to gender roles within modern relationships.

But what made this show really interesting for me was the fact that its main theme was not immediately obvious. Well, not to me anyway.

In fact, the fractured narrative and stream of consciousness-style dialogue – spoken by the show’s three female performers – seemed to describe a very ordinary life, that of a housewife awaiting the return of her husband, while running a household and raising a young daughter.

The story seemed fairly unremarkable at first, and I wasn’t entirely sure that anything original was being conveyed. Still, the staging felt exciting and playful, and I was enjoying the slow unveiling of the central relationship, so I wasn’t too fussed.

It wasn’t until part way through the piece – when the dialogue shifted to discuss the previous conquests of our protagonist – that I suddenly realized that the narrative voice was male, and all my assumptions up to this point had been wrong.

While the show may not surprise everyone in the same way, my mid-point realization really forced me to consider my own preconceptions, and the insidious nature of stereotyping and assumed gender roles, which are clearly more pervasive than many of us would like to think.

For me, the best art compels us to ask questions not only of our surroundings, but also of ourselves, and I really felt that Domestic Labour: A Study in Love was successful in this respect.

Still, some aspects of the piece felt a little under-developed.

There were references to mixed race relationships and political instability in Iran, but these issues were not fully realised and so, felt a little peripheral to me. That being said, the company succeeded in creating an intimate portrayal of a relationship, in a show that was witty and engaging from start to finish. 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Lisa Buckby responding to Domestic Labour, A Study in Love by 30 Bird

It’s a rare thing to see a piece of contemporary theatre with so much meat to it. Socio-political context sits alongside a stunning set consisting of retro household appliances. Throw in a dense text, an eclectic soundtrack, movie clips (with a squinting audience leaning in to watch from a handheld television screen), megaphones and three female performers and that just about makes up the entire myriad of parts which make up this hour long show.

Domestic Labour, a Study in Love by 30 Bird, to me, is an exploration of home life, what it means to be a doting wife, and the resentment which can develop amongst those who spend their days cleaning up after a husband and children. The show also explores what it feels like to live in two culturally different countries, Iran and the UK, and the contrast between male-female equality in East and West.

There are some wonderful vignettes to cherish and which have left an imprint in my mind since the show. Visually, the glorious eruption from an exploding vacuum cleaner, showering dust over the performers, a bicycle pedalled, propped on a radiator and convoluted contraptions in the form of electronic whisk helmets, with metres of cables and leads. There are also rough little jewels of anecdotes about holidays in the south of Spain, an Iranian Grandmother and a rather twee but well delivered account of cycling in Cambridge.

Despite the richness of content, I did encounter some problems with watching the show.  For the trio of performers, the complexity of the staging and text seem overwhelming and so there are some moments of hesitation which break magic on stage. The slight disjointedness also gives the impression that the performers don’t fully own or believe the text for themselves. Such a strongly feminist text about domesticity coming from a male director, performed by a cast who look so youthful doesn’t quite win me.

For me, such density in a show starts to detract from the effectiveness of the message and the sentiment of the work. This is a piece which is packed full of everything, and this evening also included a historically contextualising post-show talk. I can’t help but feel that with half the content, this piece could have had twice impact.

That said, the multitude of levels and media at work here mean that it is accessible on many levels, so allows everyone who sees it to take from it what they can glean. The wittiness in the delivery helps the challenging context to be easier to approach. On the whole, I found this piece to be hard work to watch, but perhaps the intensity of the ideas is actually a reflection on the thought processes of this fatigued and fraught narrator.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

John Bourassa responding to Number 1, The Plaza by GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN

Negative reviews strike me as pointless, and damning with faint praise as futile.
My ideal reviewer is a matchmaker of sorts, a yenta (not a pander) who helps a show find its audience and an audience find its show. Maybe it’s not a match made in heaven, not entirely free of challenges and failures, but it’s rewarding for both in the end. The audience finds the challenge engaging: not so easy that it bores nor so difficult that it alienates. The company finds an audience that welcomes the challenge and will come back for more. The result, if not true love, might be Flow. Everybody wins.
Which brings me to GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN’s Jennifer Pick and Lucy McCormick offering to “open up and let [me] in, right in” to an “evening with conversations, songs…shit like that”. Not the most auspicious invitation, a bit bathetic, but let’s keep an open mind.
From the outset we don’t hit it off. Two youngish women in tawdry dress and hair extensions wander before a bank of superfluous tech on an undressed stage, fitfully burbling banalities and playing air violin to miscellaneous show tunes. I come smack up against my expectation that a performer should try to win my trust, try convince me early on that she knows what she’s doing. The pair already have shit daubed on them. My brain, responding at some pointlessly visceral level, duly stops looking for subtleties and stuffs the show into the pigeonhole of painful parodies of mainstream entertainment, post millennium. Blunt. I feel blunted. That was quick.
From then on, I fail miserably to silence my inner critic, a hectoring bastard at the best of times. I just can’t relax and have a laugh at Number 1's fierce, layered parodies. My bad. By the end i’m just feeling cranky and well, stingy.
The problem with parody is that the audience needs to be intimate with the work, form or practice being parodied. The more references we can catch, the more the piece coheres and resonates with us. If we fail, we’re left feeling excluded by an in-joke. At a loss for a frame of reference, we probably just end up comparing it to work that did manage to engage us - better work as far as we're concerned. Everybody loses.
My problem is that not only am I not sure what they’re making fun of, I’m not at all convinced that they know either. They certainly cast a wide net: mass culture, musicals, reality TV, theatre, “performance art”, “failed art”, each other, themselves, us, me. The one aesthetic rule at work seems to be "go further, push till it breaks." Apparently, everything is one big fail.
The way performance art generally escapes the traps of mainstream narrative - the constant chasing after what will happen in the end, or at least what will happen next -  is to force us to ask “What’s happening now?” It’s a ploy that was mainstreamed years ago by TV shows like 24 and Lost.
OK, I’ll bite. I’ll just give them my trust anyways and ask: if they're not just trying tease a response out of me with a cattle prod, what are they doing?
Surely it’s not irony all the way down: one can only reassure oneself that “that’s the point!” so often before it all starts seeming pointless again. You can only undermine and undercut so much, can’t you?
Of course their target isn’t mass culture. After decades of exploring ever cheaper and easier ways to push our most basic buttons, mass culture is reduced to parodying itself, it doesn’t need performance art’s help.  From TV to the West End, from productivity to food, it’s all porn now and we all know it.
As for just making fun of us, I don’t for a second believe that Jen and Lucy are that mean spirited. They may not be letting me in, may be refusing to give me my expected dose of theatrical intimacy and vulnerability porn, but they’re nowhere near stupid and mean, for all the show of being stupid and mean.
Maybe they’re making fun of themselves by questioning an artistic process that has invaded their homes and their lives, leaving its mess everywhere, making it impossible to connect after all. Maybe they’re really wishing private was private, fuck off was fuck off.
I can’t help searching for answers in subtleties, hoping for something that can actually resonate, not just clang around my brain and gut. Of course expecting subtlety from a company whose very name screams GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN in all caps risks missing the point.
Maybe they’re telling me that subtlety is overrated. I no doubt overrate it; I love smugly patting myself on the back for catching a subtle detail or two.
As for the shit…
I’ve changed (...quick estimate)1812 nappies in the last 2.5 years; and as far as I’m concerned 1972 was the last time anyone said anything funny or interesting about shit on stage. “Literally eating shit!” (while of course not literally eating shit) is hardly subtle. If anything, it’s way too on the nose.
Come to think of it (which took a while) an awful lot of the details of this show are way, way too on the nose. The pretentious address of the title, the weird literal aptness of using “Send In the Clowns” (lyrics here) and “Tell Me It’s not True” (the team anthem of cheesy ploy merchants), the “stools” brought from home, the red door and the mimed window, the bra, the telling us to fuck off by saying “Fuck Off” a hundred times or just leaving the stage, and of course the shit that’s literally shit, only not really, all of it hilariously too on the nose.
Finally there’s the show’s failure itself; and it does fail, right on the nose. It’s not even just looking to fail, not just chasing the fading fashion for shows that holler “Look at my glorious failure! Isn’t it fab!”, it’s actually daring to fail.
Maybe the subtlety was under my nose all the time.

I kind of like the uncertainty of all these maybes, it’s been a while since a show has left me floundering this badly. Good. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. I might find a way to let my guard down. Well, maybe next year.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Georgie Grace responding to Number 1, The Plaza by GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN

The first part of experiencing getinthebackofthevan takes about an hour and involves watching a performance; the second part happens in your head and may go on for days afterwards. Neither part is comfortable. At times you might get really annoyed. In the first part Lucy McCormick and Jennifer Pick will, amongst other things, call you a twat and tell you to fuck off. During the second part you might wish you had fucked off, or told them to, but by then it will be too late.

At the time you’ll be too polite for that. After a while you’ll be feeling a bit awkward. Also they will distract you with humour. Sometimes it will be very funny. It will also be annoying, and uncomfortable, and then funny, and then annoying again. You’ll be quite busy reacting to things. There’s shit on the stage; how are you going to react? Lucy McCormick put her face in the shit; how are you going to react? Lucy probably isn’t wearing any pants; how are you going to react? Lucy and Jennifer are wrestling on the floor, everything is covered in shit, and Lucy definitely isn’t wearing any pants; where are you going to look? When are they going to stop? Where are other people looking? Why are you worrying about where other people are looking? Are you looking at them to avoid looking at her fanny yourself, because that would be voyeuristic? Isn’t that voyeuristic anyway - now you’re looking at other people looking - where are you going to look now?

Have I spoiled it for you? Would you have been shocked?

Did they plan to make you feel awkward, voyeuristic, disgusted, annoyed, amused, embarrassed? Of course they did; they got there before you; you walked right into it. Your reactions are just material. Your disgust, your annoyance, your desire to stab yourself in the eyes just so you don’t have to spend any longer looking at Lucy McCormick’s fanny: you’re going to be dealing with this for some time and it’s all part of the work. That’s what makes part two so frustrating (and potentially lengthy): the show is tricky; it resists evaluation. It makes your reactions part of itself. Which is clever, if annoying, but eventually leaves you neither here nor there. Maybe that’s intentional too. Maybe now you want to stab yourself in the head just so you don’t have to spend any longer thinking about it.

getinthebackofthevan say they want to transport you. Do they? They will disconcert you, annoy you, make you laugh. Initially No. 1 The Plaza achieves an excruciatingly taut balance between discomfort, annoyance, and humour. It felt like being in a vehicle with a drunk driver: they’ve told you they’re fine, but after a while you’re ricocheting from one side of the road to the other, fingernails in the upholstery, and about to get into an argument. But as the show progressed, cleverly ambivalent hospitality gave way to a long drawn out hostility towards the audience and Lucy McCormick’s fanny fell victim to the law of diminishing returns. It annoyed me a lot, and then it carried on annoying me, and then I got bored of it and took a moment to be annoyed by the interlude of girls licking cake off each other, and then I just got bored of being annoyed and began to think are we nearly there yet? By this point they were yelling at me to fuck off home, and I was ready to, but it felt like the van was slowing down to a crawl and the doors were still locked. Even so, there was a lot to like about this show - a chimeric, degenerating double act, an underwhelming smoke machine, show tunes, and shit all over the place. It was provocative, manipulative, funny, and infuriating. To a point, all those uncomfortable reactions were doing something really potent, but I could have done without the fanny overkill and anti-climax - even if it was an anti-climax about anti-climax. If you’re going to transport me, keep your foot on the pedal. Tell me to fuck off if you want to, but do it at speed, as we’re approaching a corner - and then just open the door.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Natalia Coe responding to Number 1, The Plaza by GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN

If such an offer were to come up, I'd usually politely decline any invitation involving excrement being thrust down someone's throat and being robustly informed I'm a cunt, but I was blissfully ignorant that this was on the cards when I stepped into the Junction to watch No. 1ThePlaza by Getinthebackofthevan. I'm pleased I went nevertheless.

I'd personally never seen anything like this. At first, I comfortably chuckled along to what I'd decided must be an arty stand-up comedy show- as the witty, scantily-clad, flat-sharing, co-working performers interrupted each other in comedic banter and broke out into skillful musical theatre song. After a while the claustrophobia of their bickering clamps down on you- the vile pooh incidents occur (enough said), we're asked to pack up and fuck right off. The performers retreat behind the sound system, swigging Chardonnay. It was like a door slamming in your face and a switch in genre. No longer a jolly evening at the theatre- but a disgusting, confusing one.

It was effectively alienating and moved me to reflect on the brutality and claustrophobia of certain relationships. Despite the extreme humiliation that occurred, their show and relationship carry on- culminating in a hollow sexual act.

At times raunchy, hilarious, self-mocking then uncomfortably hostile, this show contains some little treats and some thudding blows. If you're feeling adventurous and might enjoy being left pondering its meaning, I'd recommend this show.

And from Matt Trueman...

The discussion before and after Number 1, The Plaza was led by Matt Trueman whose own response is here: http://matttrueman.co.uk/2014/04/review-number-1-the-plaza-cambridge-junction.html

Tamsin Flower responding to Number 1, The Plaza by GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN

At first glance, ‘No. 1. The Plaza’ presents a conventional product of the performance art cannon. Filing in and sitting, we observe - a stage space devoid of all context other than its own. Furthermore, a sound and lighting deck are nakedly exposed upstage, surrounded by wires and gubbins. To our right is a refreshment table with a kettle...and DSL are two young women on bar-stools, wearing shiny, short apparel, playing air keyboard and violin to tunes from the musicals.

Lucy and Jen of ‘Getinthebackofthevan’ consummate an atmosphere of seedy cabaret - a suspicious brown substance is smeared all over their limbs and Essex-girl dresses. This tone of debauched clubland is built on by their first performative proposition - they will, we are told, be performing renditions of songs from the musicals. Their game of playing invisible instruments to a soundtrack of Sondheim and Lloyd Webber is built on by Lucy breaking into the perfectly pitched highs and lows of the ‘ballads.’ As she does, Jen interjects with flat-one liners or well-timed reiterations of the hyperbole Lucy wails...the song ‘I know him so Well’ from Chess is framed in such a way.

As Lucy gabbily introduces herself as the chatty, happy-go-lucky one and Jen monosyllabically cements her role as the straight-man, their dynamic as a comedy double-act becomes quickly evident. And it is this relationship dynamic that forms the foundation for each episode of this playful exploration. Throughout, cyclical thinking is manifested in repetitious physical or verbal games...They swing each other on the bar-stools, demonstrate how Lucy pretends to be a cat on Jen’s lap when vulnerable and muse on how the word ‘Sondheim’ can be emphasised differently to achieve different meanings. Much of the first half could be likened to the surreal antics of Green Wing, Smack the Pony or traditional female acts such as French and Saunders.

Predictably, the subtext of No. 1.’ is a sequence of questions ‘What is this really about?’ and ‘does it matter? Fortunately, the clues are not concealed...A central episode, in which Lucy and Jen show us around their invisible shared flat to the drone of seventies lounge music, is significant. The duo’s presentation of their poo in little lunch-boxes and subsequent tactile playing with it is also telling. During the last third, a push-pull tussle between the pair in which Jen tries to keep Lucy out of the boundaries of the kitchen, results in the beginning of Lucy’s exposure; her vagina is on display. It is also left hanging there, the desire to cover-up being markedly absent from the scenario.

From this point, repetitious push and pull and verbal loops descend into what appears to be free improvisation - the performer ‘experiences the space’ and follows exhausted impulses...Lucy ambles off stage after a final burst of exuberance mimicking flash-dance, Jen swings around on her bar-stool making childish noises. Our protagonists have reached the rock-bed of primitive behaviour and finally disappear into blackout.

No. 1.  The Plaza will undoubtedly try the patience of the uninitiated Live-Art viewer. It teases our attention through repetitious games which reflect psyche rather than concrete situation. The effect of this will be liberating or horrifying for the audience member depending on the extra-textual baggage they bring to the auditorium. The show succeeds in reflecting on how we define entertainment - from positing emotive ballads in a mundane context to exhibiting the baseness of what we do (faeces) and what we are (nudity). In doing so, it surely fulfils its criteria and that of the performance art genre. The degree to which such a presentation is deemed worthy or cohesive will vary as much as the tastes, origins, backgrounds and training of its audience members.

Olga Plocienniczak responding to Number 1, The Plaza by GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN

Not my type of shit

Due to the role catharsis plays as a “medical metaphor”, it is sometimes claimed that rather than “purification” or “cleansing” it is more appropriate to define it as purgation. Purgative is in other words strongly laxative in effect… Perhaps that’s what the heaps of faeces in No 1, The Plaza referred to.  A bit of a tedious link, I know. But that’s precisely the impression I had throughout the show, one of a very strenuous and tedious link.

In all honesty, I don’t think I should be writing about this performance. As difficult (or indeed impossible) to achieve a concept it might be, I deeply value objectivity. And as far as No 1 is concerned, unfortunately I’m quite biased. It just happened to push all the wrong buttons for me.

The first thing that struck me was that I was already familiar with the characters, I recognized the duo as soon as they appeared on stage: the silly, blabber-mouthed, fitting all stereotypes of a blonde, Lucy, and cynical, rarely given a chance to speak, with disillusionment sizzling hot beneath a seemingly calm surface, Jen. The hair attachments they were wearing served as the final hint. Last year at the Sampled festival of works-in-progress, organised by the Junction, I saw those two in a durational performance called Hairpiece. For something that must have seemed an eternity, they wondered around the stage, sipping wine and playing a word game on any phrase they could squeeze “hair” in, all whilst holding some wigs up in the air, and generally being in the same type of relation I could see right now – the not overly clever, constant chatter-box that is Lucy, and her by default quiet, slightly awkward counterpart, Jen, full of spite yet “stuck” with all the lucynesh of this world. Personally, I found half an hour of this character study quite sufficient. I admired the physical strength and endurance of these women; however, it seemed like an awful lot of effort for no particular reason, leaving me longing for some sort of meaningful message, and straining to see one, in vain.
I love theatre for its ability to create suspense by means of symbolic boundaries, a few simple props. This applies to creating and changing characters too. To see this very couple again, in the same roles, with the same mannerisms, way of interacting with each other and the audience, was disappointing.

In preparation for the show, I read Getinthebackofthevan’s “vanifesto”, where, among others, a desire to “transport” the audience is expressed. What a fantastic commitment. Whether it’s “comforting the disturbed” or “disturbing the comfortable”, the ability of a performance to transcendent, transport, introduce the spectator to a whole new viewpoint is truly extraordinary. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always about providing a form of escapism. At times, I have been shaken to my very core, taken completely out of my comfort zone, shown things I would rather not existed. I have to admit No 1, The Plaza didn’t take me very far. Or deep. Perhaps because it is not something achieved simply by showing people around the intestines of the soul; it is the choice of the soul that makes the journey. Being invited inside No 1 was like… watching a reality show. It was like witnessing an embarrassing drunken scene sober. The same cringing feeling of not being able to comprehend how anyone could find it entertaining or worthwhile. The vanifesto also states a core belief in performance as a dialogue. “Without you guys this would be nothing”, says Lucy. But our sheer presence doesn’t necessarily equate to anything either. A performer holds a certain responsibility to the audience, just like a converser holds responsibility to their listener and vice versa. Only that constitutes a true dialogue.

Of course, undoubtedly, there is value in demonstrating the shallowness of contemporary culture or what has become of human interactions. Even more so, in pointing that we are all immersed in it, owing to this “shittiness”. I could not help but think of Hannah Walker’s and Chris Thorpe’s Oh fuck moment, and how in an “office environment”, with the use of spoken word only they managed to evoke such strong emotions that some members of the audience had to leave at certain parts of the show. What a different way they chose to be thought provoking, open eyes to the consequences of trying to hide your “shit” or pretending it’s not there. But it’s one thing to be made aware, to acknowledge, to owe to; unlike Lucy I definitely don’t need my nose being rubbed into it.

Anything positive? I thought the reflection on relationships as something often continued for all the wrong reasons was quite to the point – when five years down the line people literally can’t stand each other but stick with it just because by then, they themselves and whatever they consider their property (both literally and metaphorically) is covered in each other’s shit. And another good point on property and privacy: Jen’s outraged cry commanding to leave – even though by invitation, we’ve come too far, seen too much, and once that is the case, you’re never welcome to stay. Get out and mind your own shit.
On this occasion, I was quite glad to take the advice.

Kim Komljanec responding to Number 1, The Plaza by GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN

You will get...

So, here's a show that you walk into not knowing what to expect. You don't sit in the front row. Just in case. You don't want to get wet or heckled by the performers.  You want to be on the safe side. In fact, you wish you hadn’t come on your own as you really only want to have a bit of fun after a hard day.

The two performers are female.  And the show is about that fact, even though it's not trying to be about that. You watch two women, dressed (well, for most of the show) in shiny evening dresses and five-inch heels, with hair extensions and make-up. Yet you are immediately directed to see beyond that. They can’t walk in high heels. They hunch on high stools. They make their pretty dresses pucker where they should be stretched over their feminine bits and bobs. They talk too loud and they swear. They’re everything but classy. And that’s the kind of femininity the show is about. And that’s the kind of humanity the show is about.

Yes, the plot – or the absence of it – seems to be about a lesbian relationship. But surprisingly, this show manages to use a lesbian (or is it lesbian?) relationship to raise issues about relationships in general. Straight, same-sex or even non-sexual relationships. Relationships personal and social.

You are being repeatedly shouted at: “Go home!” Who says lesbians (or any marginal group for that matter) are not intolerant, xenophobic or simply narrow-minded? And that’s the point the show makes you realize: people of any sexual orientation, race or nationality are hostile to each other.  Though if it wasn’t for this show, you probably wouldn’t be thinking about this whilst listening to live performance of some of the greatest musical hits.

The plot – or the absence of it – takes place in a fictional London flat, represented by an empty stage with only two rotating high stools. The sound and light mixing tables are placed at the far end of the stage and are both operated by the two performers, making for a few good gags but also reminding you of funding cuts in the arts. Yes, that simple.

The absence of the set design which is being referred to, strongly reminds you of Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular, though it equally well makes a point about the fa├žades we put on. How many a relationship between lovers, friends, or even just flat-mates turns out to be abusive as soon as we peel of the top layer of its well moisturized skin. The shit we take and the shit we throw at each other (in this case literally). Is bedroom really the most intimate place in a flat? Is that where the stuff we want to keep hidden happens? Or are there things much more embarrassing and private than sex or nudity? Getinthebackofthevan seem to claim so. And you agree.

Though there’s another kind of issue to be raised from seeing the show. The state of the two women performers on stage is  … it takes a lot of courage for you to say it, but … sad. And you would argue intentionally so. Though the show is not and does not attempt to be a feminist manifesto, it still raises a question about women’s voices in theatre (or perhaps society) today.

What is the form where the feminine can be neutral? It is always tainted – positively or negatively, but never neutral. Why are there so few women stand-up comedians? Why does there continue to be fewer female roles in theatre? And what form can female theatrical expression take not to be taken as a feminist manifesto? Does it really take rubbing human excrement all over one’s body to make a point? And, oh, what a relief you feel when it is revealed it is not real excrement – not for the disgust, but it would make you – a woman – feel defeated. Which, in fact, you already are. How do you perceive female nudity on stage without a hint of sexuality or beauty?  Female nudity just for what it is. How do you take it? With a spoonful of sugar to make it go down easier, you would say after seeing this show. Not that the performer’s body is not beautiful, but the way the nudity is served here certainly makes a good job of isolating it from anything else.

Still, you walk out of the show having laughed more than you’d think you would, given the issues raised. And no, your clothes weren’t sprayed on from the stage. And actually, there was some pleasant music involved. But you still did not feel safe in the auditorium. Of course not.  Wishing to feel safe in the theatre is a paradox. You go to see theatre, even the most boring traditional kind of theatre, to expose yourself to something new, different, eye-opening, thought provoking. You DO want to get sprayed on by something. You do want to get changed. That's the whole point. Will this piece change YOU?