Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Let's Get Political...

 I can usually come up with a poor excuse for not getting involved in political action: truth is, I generally haven't thought enough about the issues to know what I believe, meaning any statement I make would be ill-informed. I get irritated by the behaviour of the Con-Dem coalition, especially since it appeared to express a public rejection of New Labour, coupled with a distrust of the Tories: despite Liberal Democrat's insistence, the UK government has acted as if it wants to just hand over all power and profit to their pals in business. Nevertheless, I can't bring myself to join any protests, citing suspicion of the organisers or a more general apathy about the effectiveness of campaigning.

Instead, I bang on about the importance of political theatre. I know that I missed most of the explicitly political pieces in the Fringe - The Economist, which dealt with the Scandinavian massacre, or that verbatim one about the oil slicks - and made do with work that had more of a "the personal is the political" vibe. The Shit, I am Son and, for a longer historical perspective, Bigmouth were my moments of activism.

Both The Shit and I am Son came out of Italy: the antics of Berlusconi in the past decade has led me to assume that Italian politics is hopelessly corrupt and the very public moral lapses of the country's leader reflect a more sinister political dishonesty. The Shit is more explicit in presentation than content: a naked woman describes her ambitions in a faltering voice, before singing of the Italian revolution in the style of Diamanda Galas. Her failure to control her body through diet, and to get that job might symbolise the struggle of a people towards self-determination, or the oppression of the nation, and the specifics of her life - the self-starving, the death of her father, the miserable first encounter with sex - have a brutal resonance.

Rather, The Shit reveals the process of internalised oppression: this particular life embodies the pressures of a society that is fascinated only with success, and abandons the honest ambitions of earlier generations for a chase after fame that mistakes sacrifice for self-degradation. Having garner attention for its unflinching monologue, and the naked performer, it literally wraps itself in an Italian flag and questions the impact of a country obsessed with surface on the individual.

I am Son shares a similar anger, caricaturing obsessions with nationalism, fashion, style and romantic myths through a bracing choreography. The three dancers hurl themselves through episodic sketches, reducing to clowns or elevated to icons, hiding behind masks only to reveal furious disappointment.

Based on a poem that rejects the revolutionaries of 1968 - and sound-tracked by children's voices that articulate a social despair, I am Son captures the confusion of a world made mad by information and broken promises. The lack of a coherent programme for change in both works echoes my own political pessimism.

Against this, Bigmouth offers a broader vision: a series of extracts from great speeches, each one made ironic by subsequent history. MLK is mashed up with Hendrix's version of The Star Spangled Banner; Socrates' farewell to the Athenians after his trial becomes a riposte to The Grand Inquisitor's condemnation of Christ. Again, there is little attempt to create a reasonable agenda for change, and history itself is exposed as a series of failed ambitions.  

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