Vice Versa

Dorcas Seb. Image by Robin Clewley

Written, Co-produced and Performed by Dorcas Seb

Directed by Emmy Lahouel

HOME

Wide eyed and smiling earnestly Dorcas Seb dances in a repetitive, slightly robotic style. The audience slowly start to fill 3 sides of the stage and sit while Seb continues to dance. The music shifts subtly as a more electronic hum starts to merge in and create a more ominous tension. The 3D effect set by Dylan Howells is strikingly beautiful with its neon blue and pink lights that flicker and flow across the floor and backdrop like neural pathways in an artificial brain or a strange simulation of the tree of life. By the time Seb actually starts to speak she has already created an absorbing, dystopian vibe that feels trance like and strangely calming.

Vice Versa was originally conceived as an E.P in 2018 but has been crafted into a visually arresting, evocative piece of performance art/gig theatre. Commissioned by Eclipse Theatre and HOME as part of the Slate: Black. Arts. World project in 2018/19, with development support from Unity Theatre and funded by Arts Council England. It is clearly a deeply personal project for Seb which explores the modern digital world and our increasing fixation and reliance on our phones and computer screens as a means of communication. The original ideas behind this piece in 2018 were to become even more sharply prevalent during the pandemic when our spoken words mainly flowed from our fingers and direct eye contact was via a Zoom screen.

Dorcas Seb is a confident and accomplished artist who creates an engrossing audience experience. The production feels genuinely immersive and the seating layout brings the audience so close to Seb it’s as if they too are awaiting induction into this new dystopian world. As a performer she seems to effortlessly move between dance, spoken word, song and some wickedly good characterisations. As she morphs into her Boss and gives a sassy, evangelical spiel to the new recruits, she really brings the character alive. There is a wonderful physicality to her performance and likewise when she sings her voice is rich and pure moving from spoken word to disco to RnB without flaw.

Dorcas Seb in Vice Versa. Image by Robin Clewley

Vice Versa takes us to a world where the Welfare State no longer exists and the Welt-exe state governs our thoughts and actions. Working hard and being a good citizen is rewarded with a  repetitive bliss created by the experiences purchased when codes are currency and real dreams are a thing of the past. The world as perceived by Seb’s alter ego Xella is not exactly unpleasant in its familiarity and routine but her character is increasingly aware of her isolation and lack of human connectivity. 17 hour work days are interspersed with subway journeys, state infomercials and moments of joy when plugged into code REM where Xella momentarily can play Grandma’s Footsteps among the pixilated trees. It is during one of her journeys into artificial REM that the code glitches and her unwavering acceptance of this dystopian reality is challenged. Suddenly there are questions to be answered but no one to answer them…simply a quietly ruthless invitation to reboot or risk being ostracised as a crossed out.

Xella charts her own course and removes her digital collar to suddenly look up at the blue sky and the birds. Her redemptive journey is about connection and being in the moment. For the Crossed outers this may be an evangelical connection with Christ…for others it may be simply about living in the moment and being fully present with ourselves and others. However you choose to express your connectivity in the world Vice Versa is certainly a cautionary tale and we would all be wise to still connect to the digital world but start thinking about how we use it and not how it uses us.

HOME Theatre 1st and 2nd July 2022

Unity Theatre Friday 8th July 2022

Little Wimmin

Little Wimmin. Image by Jemima Yong

Adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by Figs in Wigs

HOME

Is this a feminist deconstruction of a revered classic novel? Is it poking fun at the many movie versions? Perhaps it is a clever take on climate change? Or simply a bizarre series of infomercials for juicing machines and vibrating exercise platforms? I’m not entirely certain that the five strong ensemble that is Figs in Wigs are any clearer than the audience.

A whirlwind first act that is a similar length to the interval break seems to be a trailer full of spoilers to Little Wimmin spliced with an idiots guide to Little Women. Dressed in floaty gowns while suspended midair with fluffy cloud wigs the Figs manage to both enchant and irritate. They appear to be both artful and artless in their delivery, creating a challenge for the audience…do we want to come back after the interval and wait almost 2 hours to see the little Wimmin make a margarita or shall we bugger off at the interval and just order one at the bar?

Act 2 opens like an am-dram performance that appears to be a faithful rendition of the classic…just very orange. If the past was all white lace gloves then the present for Figs in Wigs, and undoubtedly the future, is orange…very orange indeed. Meg manages, Jo lollops, Meg simpers (and dies) and Amy flounces. Oh and the Christmas tree breaks the fourth wall to give a sneering critique of the show so far before lip syncing to the Chris Rea classic Driving Home for Christmas with a delivery that would not look out of place on Rupaul’s Drag Race.

There are radical hair restyles, arson, births and deaths all interspersed with prolonged crying. It feels like this pain will never end…When will it be over? These phrases repeatedly occur as time fractures, ice sculptures melt on tea trays, jelly wobbles on vibrating plates and rugs are beaten in an orgasmic frenzy. There is a pervading sense of what mind blowing creative carnage might occur if you locked these five in a rehearsal space with Forced Entertainment and Rashdash.

There are some clever and beautifully choreographed dance sequences, especially the piece depicting time against a backdrop of faded replications of the performance that is very effective. Genius moments include an unforgettable delivery of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien and Lynchian sequences where a giant lace glove dances alongside a horse in a pin stripe suit. Limes fall from the sky and are rhythmically squeezed by an industrial juicer before being decanted into a giant cocktail glass and drank by the famous five now clad in you guessed it – orange hazmat suits.

This is not a show for the faint hearted or the easy confused. However it is a delight if you like your absurdist theatre orange…very orange indeed. With a pinch of subversion, a dash of too clever for its own good, a drip of climate change politics and a squirt of feminism Little Wimmin is a theatrical cocktail.

HOME 5th -14th March 2020

All images by Jemima Yong

ACEPHALOUS MONSTER

Concept and Performer Ron Athey

Manchester Word of Warning at NIAMOS

This is a marriage made in heaven/hell as the iconic and maverick performance artist Ron Athey performs his blistering Acephalous Monster in the chilly, faded splendour of the old Hulme Hippodrome now reinvented as NIAMOS. Known for his bloody and visceral explorations of life, death, sexuality, trauma and fortitude this recent work focuses on the mutating, insidious spread of neo-fascism. Comprising video projections, readings, word virus and blood letting, Acephalous Monster is both troubling and mesmerising.

The performance is inspired by the work of George Bataille and his creation of a secret society, Acéphale which sought to combat 1930s fascism and rescue Nietzsche from the Nazi propaganda machine. It is provocative and definitely playing with the limits of artistic practice, but Athey is experienced and assured in his practice so the work never feels gratuitous.

Divided into five distinct sections this is not for the faint hearted. Pistol Poem sees a dapper, suited Athey chanting out numbers as he moves across a grid with deliberate and increasingly exaggerated movements like Hitler doing a step class. Later joined by Hermes Pittakos, they continue what seems a pointless repetition of moves that is quite hypnotic, while text by George Bataille appears on the screen behind. In Dionysus vs The Crucified One we see Athey at a glowing red pulpit reading lecture text from Bataille on the madness of Nietzsche while video shows the violent, imagined conception of the Minotaur.

The core focuses on celebrating the beheading of Louis XVI as an elaborately wigged Athey powders and preens before facing his execution like a macabre Punch and Judy show. There are inevitably allusions to our current political buffoons and their elaborately coiffed heads. The background footage features beheadings in the labyrinth of Forest Lawn Memorial Patk in Greendale. There is a delicious irony in Athey exploring the concept of Acéphale, the headless mascot and monster in the very cemetery where Walt Disney lies buried while his severed head is in a cryogenic facility.

Apotheosis sees Athey naked as he merges into a pool of gleaming viscose goo and then rises clutching visceral guts or umbilical cord with pigs skull mask. Dark and beautiful this is visually stunning and moving. In the final part he is joined again on stage by Hermes Pittakos for a delicate and painstaking blood letting that depicts an old masters painting. On the screen behind a BDSM scene unfolds with fakir shoes and the insertion of an elaborate peacock feather buttplug. This closing scene has real tenderness and joy. Perhaps a celebration of life and fortitude it marries the work of Athey who tested positive for HIV over 30 years ago and has survived to see PrEP while also celebrating the work of fellow performance artist Jon John who recently died from cancer in his early thirties.

There is humour, tenderness and supreme elegance in every aspect of this work. It feels impossible not to be moved by this multi layered, lushly designed performance.

NIAMOS 23rd October 2019

Cambridge Junction 30th October 2019

Ron Athey

Word of Warning

Images by Rachel Papo