My Stories, your emails, The Pit, Barbican, London
Thursday 04 February 2010
Let's imagine you have a teenage son. He comes home one evening and says he has been to an "investigation into identity, relationships, loneliness, and political incorrectness". You praise him. Later, you overhear him telling a friend he has just seen a film of a woman stripping naked and pulling a red handkerchief out of her bottom, then the real woman reading out emails from lonely admirers and projecting photographs of their erect penises and finally stripping in the flesh. "Wicked boy!" you cry. (I'm imagining you're the old-fashioned kind of parent.) "Lying boy!" He is puzzled. "But, mum/dad, I was talking about the same thing."
The description of Ursula Martinez's show is condensed from the one in the Barbican brochure, but, as this is illustrated with photographs of her partly covered only by her hands or a laptop, you know to take it. For corporate art-speak, it's not a patch on the ones produced by the British Council for her other work: "Fuses conceptual ideas with popular forms to create innovative, challenging, experimental theatre," it says about her, as well as "innovative, challenging, provocative". Here is indeed a primer for grant applications.
In the "stories" with which Martinez opens her performance, she tells us that her English father's relatives were scandalised when he married "a dirty Spaniard", but he returned to their good graces when as she put it "his brother married a nigger". She re-enacts her bewilderment with the next-door neighbours' Down's syndrome child, who offered her "ty-ers" from their allotment. (Were the funding authorities told, one wonders, that the show deals with racism and mental illness?) She recalls various human and animal effluvia eaten accidentally or on purpose. She says that police who came to her parents' home after a burglary thought the place had been ruthlessly pillaged, not realising it always looked like that. In a 1987 movie I saw, this joke was used, and the audience groaned at its age.
Throughout, her mouth hangs open in a parody of a grin, then pursed into a knowing smirk.
Though the show was commissioned by Queer Up North as well as the Barbican, the only reference to Martinez's lesbianism is her wish to snog Nigella Lawson. The Arts Council may also feel short-changed, as its £4,990 is not reflected in costume (Martinez wears the same brown suit as she did in the 2006 YouTube film that made her name) or scenery (I assume the Barbican has two lecterns and a movie screen). It's a minute sum, of course, but I wish that none of my money was being spent making people feel superior to men who seek sex on the internet.
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