Tuesday, 22 April 2014

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?

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