David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Online
Are all American theatrefolk Catholic? Confession is big news across the pond. Give 'em a stage, and they'll tell all. Dim the lights and express your pain (preferably from the perspective of an oppressed minority), and hey presto! you've got a show. Call me a racist, sexist git if you will, but I thought there was more to theatre than spilling your guts.

At first glance, Faith and Dancing and You're Just Like My Father would appear to fall into this category. Wrong. These two solo performance pieces about growing up lesbian in the Fifties are far more theatrically sophisticated than the dreaded term "performance" would suggest. Why? Because they're written and performed by the illustrious Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver aka the wonderful Split Britches.

Both women are blessed with an arresting stage presence. They don't "act", they give you the material, well, straight. Yet at the same time, each of them uses a bold, extraordinarily witty dramatic dynamic to explore their ideas.

Butch Shaw (below left) straps her breasts with bandages and struts and swaggers through memories of adolescence, dressing and undressing from GI uniform to boxer shorts. There's a peculiar dynamism to her delivery, words punched at you as she cuts a sharp, powerful path through the minefield of Fifties expectations and stereotypes. Femme Weaver, looking like a Purdey-era Joanna Lumley in a little-girl dress, sits on a swing or teeters about in ruby slippers trying to find her way back to Virginia, the name of her home state and her mother. Her double-edged musings are brimming with ideas that could do with tightening, but there's no denying the powerful resonances at play. You thought sexual politics was a dry academic discourse? Wrong again. Where else can you find Elvis rubbing shoulders with the essential guide to hanging out your washing?

Drill Hall, London WC1 (0171-637 8270) `Split Britches', ed Sue-Ellen Case, Routledge

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