How You Gonna Live Your Dash
Review by Mark Brown
Performance art – the extremely broad, experimental art form in which artists devise new theatrical productions – is very much like the little girl from American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s nursery rhyme. That is to say, when it is good it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid.
If you were at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh last night for Russian company Akhe’s Gobo. Digital Glossary, you were fortunate enough to witness performance art at its adventurous, poetic, visually stunning best. There could hardly be a greater contrast with the St Petersburg duo’s piece than How You Gonna Live Your Dash, the new show created by young, Scottish performance artist Jenna Watt.
If only the question mark missing from the show’s title was the only notable absence. This work, which is co-devised and co-performed with Ashley Smith, lacks structure, originality and, most significantly, the capacity to hold one’s interest.
The piece is an attempted consideration of the moments when people choose a radical turn in their lives. It pains me to say so, but, far from the “thought provoking” and emotionally “shattering” production promised, the show is a dull, alienating hour of barely connected, half-baked rehearsal room skits.
Encouraged by a number of over-enthusiastic accolades for her promising-but-modest earlier work Flaneurs, Watt has gone in a self-consciously postmodern direction. Her show interlaces briefly narrated moments from people’s testimonies (George quits his job, John goes to Sri Lanka) with uninspired, meaningless stage imagery (a few miniature fireworks are ignited, Watt appears to fly in the face of health and safety regulations by blowing purple powder from a funnel all over her face).
This kind of amateurish, self-indulgent, cultural relativist work gives performance art a bad name. When Phil Collins’s song Against All Odds is the most emotive thing in your show, you should know you’re doing something wrong.
Touring until February 13. See jennawatt.co.uk for details
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 7, 2016
© Mark Brown