Soho Theatre, London – until 16 December 2017
It’s rare that I’m intimidated by a show. But as three bare bottoms on the edge of a trestle table ridicule the negative reviews the attached bodies have received, I can’t help but feel vulnerable with my pen in hand and notebook on my lap. Though comedians Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott are the owners of the brazen bums, it’s us critics left with our pants down in this cleverly constructed, meta-meta-theatrical work.
The initial dramaturgical model is simple – real review excerpts are chosen for comedic value, which are then commented on for additional laughs. Though the comedy floats nicely on the surface, the power lies in the truism that critics can’t know artists’ true intentions. This is where critics put themselves on the line by passing judgement on what is merely their interpretation of a work, and the three women prove that critics can, and often do, get it wrong.
They latch onto a particular extract: ‘For no apparent reason…’ is riffed on ad nauseam, disempowering critics and highlighting the tension between the two roles. More importantly, they recognise that it’s usually white men who are so off-base, and the power they hold over women performers is inherently skewed in our patriarchal industry. Though this power is mocked, there are no suggestions for new models – this would be a great inclusion.
This structure evolves into an increasingly absurd visual montage of performance art that refers to itself referring to itself, and then some. The layers of meta-performance are witty and thought-provoking, with commentary that perpetually anticipates the audience’s thoughts. It’s this element that is most unsettling, though the constant barrage of self-referential commentary eventually wears itself out.
The climax proves no one is safe, not even the performers themselves. A self-described token trans person of colour (Krishna Istha) calls out the white, cis privilege of the show’s three creators as they gleefully frolic around the stage in the buff. It’s in this sequence that by discrediting themselves, Coombs Marr, Martinez and Truscott undermine their message, albeit necessarily – all any of us ever do in theatre is talk out of our arses.