Calm, Down Dear Festival, Camden People’s Theatre, London (****)
A couple of years ago I saw a show called Pretty Ugly headlining the launch of the UK’s first deliciously named Calm, Down Dear, the UK’s first and only festival of innovative feminist theatre. Curated by Jenny Paton and Guardian theatre reviewer, Brian Logan, it was as Logan noted this year, a crazy thing to do given the anti-feminist feeling around at the time.
How times change. Two years on, the number of applicants, he says, for this year’s festival, has exploded.
It’s heartening to find such excitement still sprouting up. CPT is very much a community theatre, small, basic. But the festival and the buzz around it are unmistakeably electric. And Louise Orwin’s A Girl and A Gun, again headlining (along with Racheal Ofori’s Portrait, to be seen on another occasion) confirms why in the intervening period, I’ve often found myself referring back to Pretty Ugly.
Orwin was pinpointing what has now become a national concern about the effect of social media on young girls, their body image and self confidence with a show that discomfited, took great risks but always with a conscious sense of its theatrical impact.
A Girl and A Gun similarly raises uncomfortable thoughts and reflections. Inspired by French avant garde film guru, Jean-Luc Godard’s comment, `all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’, Orwin sets out to mimic the cinematic stereotype of woman and gun-toting hero in a self-consciously `false’ manner. With the help of a male colleague, everything is read from autocue. Surtitles – but with a different intent; to underline the artificial and indeed, the manipulation inherent in the act of film-making. And use of women.
Except, Orwin is always the one in control. She is an extraordinary performer – a magnetic presence. Here heightened by dance, dress and lipstick, her `character’ with a Blanche du Bois southern drawl is sexy, vulnerable and yes, masochistic.
Beside her, Andrew Barton (each performance will see a different `Him’ a dynamic of surprise echoing Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree which uses different performers for each performance) plays up the macho cowboy cliché with delightful irony.
At times rough round the edges – one of the three screens was malfunctioning – and often rekindling memories of performance art duo Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw’s satirical lesbian treatment covering similar ground some years ago, Orwin is still a spell-binder asking awkward questions about voyeurism and audience complicities.
And her music choices are fantastic! Go see, especially her dance to Nancy Sinatra’s `these boots are made for walking…’
The Calm, Down Dear Festival continues to Oct 11, 2015
Review first published in Reviewsgate Sept 2015