Just like a woman: London Edition @ The Chelsea Theatre Review

A subtle fluorescent glow, featuring a revolving disco ball sets the scene for this exclusive exhibition. I promenade through performance space one, (the bar), free glass of champagne in hand, I observe the elitist audience that has gathered. One of all sexualities, expressing freedom, liberty and confidence, this is a show for everyone. Just Like a Woman is an exhibition of shows, debates, instillations and screenings looking at the performance of identity- the ways femininity can be ‘performed’ and representations of how gender can be queered through performance. This striking production presented by the Live Art Development Agency, working in collaboration with The Chelsea Theatre, is an exploratory piece discovering a sense of identity, gender and feminism.

Just Like a Woman

We begin with ‘The Only Way Home is Through the show: Performance Work of Lois Weaver’, both a tribute to the life and performance practice of Lois. The opening of the exhibition is a book launch and cocktails with Lois Weaver herself and Jen Harvie, which is presented as an informative presentation, from both Lois herself, and many of her forthcoming collaborators. Lois Weaver is one of the true pioneers in feminist and lesbian performance, thus beginning the exhibition with the construct and recurring theme for the evening. Within the presentation we are told about the explorations covered within the newly released publication, exploring Lois’ collaborative work, performance interventions and work as a facilitator. This presentation is intellectual, discussing ideologies that are clearly prevalent to its audience however; it can often appear alienating depending on your involvement within the queer industry. As the presentation moves on it features performance screenings, by both Lois and the infamous Peggy Shaw, one of her better known collaborators, also present for the launch. Altogether this opening to the exhibition sets the scene for the evening, somewhat exploring performance but can appear lacklustre whilst doing so.

Grab another chardonnay; it’s time to move onto the next performance, ‘Blackouts’ by Dickie Beau. Now this show has already been covered by Theatrefullstop so I will keep it brief. The drag fabulist, Dickie Beau, shape shifts through a shadowy soundscape of lost souls in a theatrical trip to the subconscious underworld of his future self. This show brings to life extraordinary audio artefacts, featuring Marilyn Monroe’s final interview, Judy Garland alone in a room with a Dictaphone and voice recordings of Richard Meryman, the man who conducted infamous interviews with such idols. The performance features Dickie Beau alone onstage, covering original material that is spellbinding and select. This show is a must see, purely for its innovation, direction and sense of self, to read the full review of Blackouts click here…

It’s 9:15pm, we are back in the bar area, we reflect fully immersed in the ideology of queer performance, I question gender, performance practice and above all else one’s identity. The disco ball in its final turn for the night shines a light on ‘The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein, Live at The World’s End’. Lauren is a New-York raised, London based performance maker of larger scale, stage based, disastrous feminist spectacles. This production is not for the faint hearted, alluding to monologues of violence, sexual interaction and spectacle. This performance stands out from the rest as it signifies sexual representation, sexual interaction and generally sex as a construct. This production alludes to a partly naked performer; giant cue cards and an even bigger fairytale book all detailing horrific descriptions that have the audience roaring with laughter, spluttering at the absurdist metaphors spoken by Lauren herself. As an audience member you laugh with an ounce of suspicion not knowing what is going to happen next. Lauren’s performance breaks the fourth wall and performance construct, almost mimicking the ideology of sitting on stage performing. Within the production there is a connotation of a multitude of themes including gender, sex, identity, femininity and violence. This performance is coded with swear words, sexual references and genital violence, if this is your thing feel free to observe, it will make you laugh with shock.

We return back to the theatre space, upstairs and take our seats for the fourth and final performance of the evening, Laura Bridgeman, Julie McNamara and The Drakes, The Butch Monologues. This production denotes secret stories exploring sexuality, vulnerability and desire taken from interviews with butches, masculine women and transmen, living worldwide. In society this sense of identity is ever growing, changing and developing; it is more present within society than ever. Within this production butch as an identity is critiqued, evaluated and analysed, the performers are honest, caring towards another and truly passionate. Often this performance is shocking, emotional but interestingly always remains true to itself. Although the performance is engaging and enlightening it can often feature some references that appear unidentifiable to some. I often find myself questioning a statement because I do not understand the reference but I suppose this is relevant within any production. As a whole the performance is coherent, aptly structured and clear to its audience. It transcends a message of acceptance which I believe is a recurring theme and moral for the evening. It presents a fascinating methodology of verbatim construct, devising a naturalistic performance that is heart-warmingly emotional.

This exhibition in its entirety is well mastered and produced. It reflects a sense of pride, enthusiasm and passion. As an audience member I feel welcomed within the space and embody a sense of pride for my own existence and gender. Although the production is engaging I often question its universality, as it is heavily flourished with queer references, jokes and remarks and I question the appropriateness of this towards a wider audience. I leave this production considering the performativity of the exhibition, curated with such elegance and precision but questioning its identity to the wider public which all its references. 3.5/5

Review written by Meg Mattravers.

Just Like a Woman: London Edition was shown as part of this year’s SACRED festival at the Chelsea Theatre on Friday 13th November. For more information on the festival, visit here…

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