Posts Tagged ‘Camden People’s Theater’

Review – Oh Yes Oh No – Louise Orwin at Camden People’s Theater

May 10, 2017

You know that thing where there’s a really great show you only barely heard about before it completely sold out? Yeah. This is one of them. As of the time I am writing this review, Oh Yes Oh No only had four tickets left for tonight. Yes, tonight. It’s sold out tomorrow. So this, loyal readers, is your heads up. Dash away online before you finish reading this and get your ticket purchased, or make the attempt to do waitlisting for the final performances of Oh Yes Oh No. If you want a night of theater that made you feel like you just got a blackjack to the back of the head, Louise Orwin’s one person show is it.

I did not know what to expect from this show. I thought I was going to get to hear someone talk about how wanting to be female and sexual, or sexually submissive, isn’t really approved in our society. These things are (mostly) true. But I thought it was going to be funny, an idea I stuck to even more strongly when I saw there were Barbie dolls on stage. What I didn’t expect was to be pulled into someone else’s dark nightmare populated by horrors inflicted internally and externally, by society, men and her/your/the self. You are told you can run away, but you will not. You will want to sit there until the end. You will want to see that there will be an end.

In the world of SM, sex is play and people engage in fantasies that are discussed and consented to beforehand. But the character of this play has a problem. What she likes – being hit, being choked, being hurt so much it’s nearly dangerous – seems wrong. And for her, there’s a double bind, because these things have been done to her in a situation where she did not consent. She was attacked She was raped. And now, she has to deal with the fact that she can both be seen as asking for it because she fantasized about violence and objectification, and of being in the horrible situation of not being able to ask for it any more … that is, to not be able to ask for what she finds hot. Being raped takes away way more choices than I might ever have thought.

Orwin makes many of these elements come to life in her show in the oddest ways. She pulls a member of the audience in to participate (we had a lovely leather jacketed short haired woman radiating all sorts of androgyny), and while they are asked if they consented, their answers are read off of cards. It plays with consent and in some ways highlights the fact that in a sexual situation, you might give your consent, but you may actually do so unwillingly … because you’re saying what you have to say to keep yourself safe. Because, actually, saying no and being hurt less may be a better option. I’m sorry, this is true. I’m sorry this is true. It is true. It just simply is.

Overhead, at times, we get to hear the voices of women talking about rape, about their rapes, about how it affected them, about how they remember it, about how it has changed their fantasy life, about how people think it should change them. But these aren’t all there is to this show. We have Barbie and Ken re-enacting sexual desire in a “safe” space, a “play” space, a space where dolls can spread their legs and bounce against each other and it’s all laughs. It’s a space that doesn’t reflect real life, where the people who prey on women are all so often their friends and acquaintances. We can walk away from the dolls. Barbie doesn’t cry and she isn’t hurt. It’s all fun.

As the show evolves, we are forced to accept Orwin’s statements, that she can want to be horribly treated and love it, with the fact that victim treatment struggles with shaming and the implicit belief that if you like a good smack in the face, you’re damaged, somehow. It’s a complex piece to navigate from the inside, but everything, honestly, all fell together so well from the outside. The struggle she faced was so real. I’ve never seen this subject handled on stage before and it was both moving and poignant, and clever and insightful as a staged work, hitting on so many levels.

I could go on at length. I could write a thesis on this show. But I’m just going to stop now, while there are still four tickets left, and tell you: go.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017. It closes May 11th.)

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Review – Coming Clean: Life as a Naked House Cleaner – HOTBED Festival, Camden People’s Theater

May 6, 2017

So if you were going to go out for a fun night with a girlfriend, what would be you idea of a great date? For the many ladies who crowded the living room of an anonymous house (charmingly decorated with typewriters and old board games – really, it was like a movie set) in Bounds Green, it was clear that watching a handsome gay man explain to us the tips and tricks of housecleaning – while naked – was absolutely an ideal way to spend the evening. It became even nicer as we were handed glasses of prosecco. Our performer was still striding around fully clothed – greeting each of us and requesting us to fill out a quick survey – but, hey, it did seem very likely he might take off his clothes. The atmosphere was extremely convivial – how could anything go wrong? Coming Clean seemed like it was to be a dream come true!

This was true for us as we enjoyed the lap of luxury – Ethan Mechare kept us very well fed, and we were allowed to bring our own drinks as well – but Ethan’s story about his experiences in the dangerous underground of paid hourly labor was a source of likely nightmares for many of us. Well, it could have been – he’s certainly suffered enough sexual harassment on the job to keep an entire building full of lawyers running full-tilt – but in story after story we were kept laughing and on the edge of our seats. Who could have ever known the strange secrets of an east end cabbie? Just how many edge “philias” and “philes” were out there (not to mention hiding in full sight in the audience)? And why did they think they could most easily get them satisfied by calling a naked house cleaner out to try them out on?

Ethan’s story was punctuated and threaded together by his own passions – Oprah, cleanliness, showing off – but he made sure to add in lots of juicy extras that kept us all on tenterhooks. A real highlight for me – or perhaps we should say a “memorable moment” – came when he was discussing a client who wanted him to watch a little internet clip with him. Innocent enough – only it was from a site called Cakefarting.com. We were also shown this clip and let me say I have not been so shocked in the theater since Kim Noble showed a video of himself taking a crap in a church. The whole room was in a state of near riot and my mind was polluted in a way I will never be able to undo. It led me to hysterical reveries about what it meant when Ethan’s clients asked if he was “discreet.” A lot of times it’s a code for “are you obviously gay,” but I wondered if, for that client, it was a way of asking if there were any visible signs of cake on Ethan’s body – a little chocolate icing in the waistband of the trousers, a bit of crumbs clinging to his socks – the possibilities were endless.

In the end, I’m pleased to say, our performer did share with us what his clients paid (ever so much more) to see, only as a cherry on the (dare I say it) cake rather than as the body (did it again) of the performance. The whole thing was warm and merry and really just a completely lovely night out – I can hardly recommend it enough!

(This review is of a performance that took place May 5th, 2017. The final night of this performance in the Hotbed Festival is May 6 but it will be transferring to Brighton. Drinking before and during this show is highly recommended, but leave your hangups behind.)

Review – Bridle – Clamour Theater at Camden People’s Theater

May 1, 2017

Bridle” was billed as a “satire on feminine sexuality, and the attempts to control it.” It started out with three women kind of dancing on stage, dressed in somewhat sexy clothes, but wearing rubber horse heads. I wondered if we were going to go into some kind of long exposition on pony play, but no such luck; my companion looked around nervously then whispered in my ear that when he was in uni, his friends used to drop acid and run around the house wearing rubber horse heads just like the ones the actresses had on. As it turns out, neither of us were on the right track at all. I was distracted shortly in by a voice overhead that seemed to be telling the three women they’d been arrested for various inappropriate behaviors, such as sending naked photos via cell phone … I was thinking, is this the logical extension of the “extreme pornography” act, which criminalized depictions of many different forms of women’s sexual pleasure? Were we going to be facing the logical results of banning all of these things?

Well … no, that wasn’t the case, either, and while the police element came back it was all clearly purely metaphorical (although at the end I was wondering if one of the characters had started stalking her boyfriend). What we had here was the kind of things I discuss with my best friend all of the time. Why isn’t it okay for me to laugh loud and be the center of attention? Why are women supposed to be demure? Why do men persist in the virgin/whore dichotomy? Why does it feel like enjoying sex is something to be ashamed off? Seriously, it’s the 21st fucking century, why is everything still so backwards, and why does being female feel like such a restraint on our ability to genuinely express ourselves, our desires, our goals, and our wants? Why is being sexually positive still seen as a bad thing? AAARGH!

The three characters told little narratives, sometimes together, sometimes alone, often times talking to a voice (there were several) from overhead. They talked about sexual expression, laughing, the censure of other women, wanting things that you know aren’t good for you, being in sexual situations that are not positive but are still hot: a mixture of good bad, and messy, but all feeling very real about the territory that is how women really experience our lives. Yeah, being choked seems very “oh how can this be consensual,” but, if it is, seriously, who’s business is it? And yet we go through the days with people constantly looking over our shoulders, twitching their curtains, and judging us: are we good girls or bad, are we behaving ourselves or out of control, are we asking for it or being sad losers and begging for it. No matter what, it seems when it comes to female sexuality, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid being judged.

The show itself didn’t make any judgments on its characters; they were allowed to exist in their complexity without comment. But to me the message seemed clear; from your friends to your relatives, to your boyfriends to your neighbors; as a woman, it’s an endless fight to be true to yourself, and you can almost never be honest in any way without falling prey to a host of negativity and corrections about what the “right” behavior ought to be. We don’t get answers on how to change things; but this show is a start for a discussion about learning to be honest and learning to step away from what “society” thinks is right and head toward a more authentic examination about how women really are … without the bridles on.

(This review is for a performance that took place on 26 April 2017 as a part of the Camden People’s Theater’s inaugural “Hotbed” festival.)

Review – No Milk for the Foxes – Beats & Elements at Camden People’s Theater

May 1, 2015

My initial take on No Milk for the Foxes was that it was not going to be a show for me. I’m gonna quote from the press release: “Through spoken word, humour, live looping and beatbox, No Milk For The Foxes explores Cameron’s England from the perspective of the working class.” Losing me a little, there, sounds like it’s going to be preachy .. “As working class artists themselves, the creators want to challenge representations of class on the modern stage and bring humour and humility to their audiences.” Aw f**k no way, the LAST thing I want when I go to the theater is to having someone tell me they’re going to “challenge” me and teach me some humility. Thanks, I got people at work that spend all DAY trying to show me how I’m under their thumb and when I go see a show I usually go to forget that, not spend 90 minutes having someone playing mind games with me because they’ve got something they think they want to prove. I just won’t even play. And if they’re going to be working so hard to show “the working class” on stage, I’m probably either going to not understand their accents or not understand their jokes. And rap music. Please.

BUUUUT … then I saw Matt Trueman’s preview of the show and I had a rethink. Trueman was talking about some things that have been pissing me off lately, starting in December with the bullshit about why theater audiences are so white but then carrying on into some very sensible questions about just what kind of people can even do theater given how you practically have to start out with a rich mom and dad to get into the right theater school and let’s not even start on how you’re supposed to manage those first three years of your career without just totally giving up especially if you’re trying to do something crazy like directing. Matt talked to the guys who created this piece, who said they were hacked off with the fact that when you see “people like themselves on stage … it often felt deeply inauthentic.” (Quote not them but Trueman’s summary.) So I’m not into seeing theater where someone is trying to teach me humility, but I am really into seeing shows that are actually trying to get it right. That’s what I loved about Good People – it was one of the first time I’ve seen people like me on stage: playing bingo, struggling to pay rent, dealing with violence and homelessness as simple facts of life. So I thought, you know, let’s see this show that’s about some people that aren’t on stage actually being on stage … and getting it right. God knows with my total confusion about the whole class thing here I wouldn’t have known getting it right from getting it wrong anyway. And, hey, it’s an excuse to break in the Camden People’s Theater, which I’ve never been to before.

As it turns out, this was a pretty entertaining piece (what I look for at the theater, normally), with the two characters, Mark (Paul Cree) and Sparkx (Conrad Murray), having a lot of fun on stage carrying on with each other, with the kind of silliness and camaraderie I’ve seen develop between coworkers at job after job. There isn’t really a plot, per se: it’s mostly the two guys just meeting up on shift and BSing with each other. Through the chat you get to know the two of them: their attitudes toward politics, Mark’s attempts to make a life with the limited opportunities he’s getting, Sparkx’s general indifference to work and yet odd inclusion in drinking outings with their manager. In between chatting segments (and making tea, and looking at the hole in the fence outside), they do little rapped songs, one of them making noises while the other talks. These bits provide some further illumination on their lives, especially their interior world (always hard to do in a play), but also some reflection on the world around them. In this sense it almost becomes a sort of traditional musical, or maybe an operetta, only in an ultra-now kind of way, because it’s not a GRAND story of A HERO and a HEROINE and OOH THE EMOTION but rather the flattened out world of every day, the small dreams, not the dramatic. People just don’t usually make musicals about these kinds of lives, or anything to do with these kinds of jobs (you’ll remember Carmen was not about spending months on end rolling cigarettes, even if that was most of her life), because it is really just so mundane and painful to grind through: but the rap really works to add the extra layers of reality on top. I liked it a lot, even though sometimes I couldn’t understand what they were saying (I’m not good with slang so this happens still). I think it could be the first work of an entire body of work done in this style, but time will tell …

Interestingly enough, it looked to me (from my seat three rows back) that Beats & Elements had actually succeeded at making a play that was attracting people outside of the middle class to the theater, because the behavior of the other patrons was such that I got the feeling they hadn’t really done this before. A couple of people were making commentary rather loudly about what was going on – albeit appreciatively, and I notice this was not carrying on a conversation but more on the line of “Uh oh, he’s gonna get it!”, comments which showed engagement – and also, well, standing up and taking off their coat and someone decided to get into a large packet of crisps or something at about 50 minutes in. It was the kind of behavior I normally find extremely irritating, but in this case, I think, you know, if these people are here for their first time – well, that’s actually kind of awesome, isn’t it? And the performers rolled with it pretty well and someone else shushed one of the loud commenters, but, overall, it was tolerable. Except for the person with the sack of crisps, that was driving me up a tree. But I liked that some people that weren’t the richy rich cats that come to the Hampstead (and snob me off) and all of the silver hairs that I see at the National were at a show, because to me theater is a public benefit that ought to be seen by people outside of those who already have more than enough disposable income to afford it. We need more stories about the rest of Britain and a little less bland entertainment or Shakespearean revivals. We need shows like this, and I’m glad, for once, we got one, because even if these aren’t people just like me, they’re people a hell of a lot more like me than the characters in Hayfever.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. It continues through May 9th.)