UNSEX ME

17/10/2012 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

This solo act at the Crack Theatre Festival was a highlight for the weekend, and not just because it left its audience simultaneously grinning stupidly and looking at each other in shock and awe, but for its superlative comic timing and glorious insouciance delivered impeccably by Mark Wilson in the guise of um, Mark Wilson… playing himself? Herself? Playing the audience maybe? It’s pointless (or perhaps absolutely on point) unpacking the contradictions of gender inherent in the work – this is much more than a comedy drag act, to say the least. With this in mind, it occupies the long standing satiric convention of men-dressing-up-as-women, and then takes it a little bit further. And then a little bit further still. And then just a little bit more… I overheard 2012 Festival Director Jane Grimley describe the show as a ‘Twisted Cabaret’; and this is fitting, for lack of an adequate name for the form that’s not quite stand-up comedy, not quite spoken word, not quite drama either…

Like the satirists of ancient times Wilson uses contemporary mythologies as the backdrop for the text; only to caustically explode said myths without prejudice. In this case (without detouring into spoiler territory) it is the mythology surrounding celebrity stardom, talent and the ripe territory of showbiz families. Smut is purveyed, piss is taken, audiences brought on stage and hecklers picked on, laughter is shared. Improvisational repartee is thrown in here, at times reminiscent of Barry Humphries as Dame Edna, and it’s these off-the-cuff moments which bring in the audience early, and keeps them there.

Queer Theory is front and centre, but even if you’re only passingly familiar with sexual identity politics it’s immediately accessible. Wilson’s portrayal of the statuesque award winning actress is already patently absurd, and much fun is had poking at preconceptions of gender. The audience is comfortable with this, it’s a man in a dress! This is Newcastle, 2012! Once the ground rules are established, it’s a rollicking affair, especially once Wilson starts moving the goalposts in the second half. Like an expert fly-fisher luring in their prey, the performer brings us into a relaxed and comfortable state, almost self-satisfied with our ability to cope with a strange man in a formal dress and an Aphex Twin smile making jokes about sex and love. Everyone’s laughing, it’s fine. We’re really ok with this! So we take a step closer, beckoned into Wilson’s circle of intimacy… and without putting too fine a point on things… it gets a little dark. In a good way…

Suddenly people are turning to each other thinking are we really watching this? Laughing, blinking, screaming, heads in hands face down, eyes front, this is not happening, did that just happen? We’ve seen a few (not a lot) queer-text performances over the years – with the predominant theme being an overtly outrageous capacity for the lascivious caricature. After millenia of oppression queer pride is out to own it, to shock, to be seen, to say ‘fuck you’ to heteronormative preconceptions of sexuality. To be confronted with something both hysterical and shocking is difficult for even the more seasoned theatre audiences, and it’s a fine line keeping your feet in both camps at once (to shock but be unfunny is a cardinal sin here) but Wilson takes this astonishing piece of risk and smashes it. There is capacity for audiences to be offended, sure; but that’s half the point, when the real offense is inherent in our social and political inequities and insistence on breeding fear above acceptance of the ‘other’ (witness our recent Federal Government ‘conscience vote’ on marriage equality)… In this context it’s a bit rich to get offended by someone making a few risqué gags into a mic.

Not often we can say there was a point in a show when an entire audience erupts in simultaneous joy and disbelief like the one in Newcastle that Saturday night. It’s amazing what can be achieved with a room full of people all focused on one man and his microphone…

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Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE.

BACKSTAGE CRACK DIARY PART DEUX: beyond the wall ONCE MORE INTO THE QUAGMIRE pt ii CRACK THAT WHIP

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

since 2009

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