Seen at Traverse, Edinburgh
Touring, various dates, until October 22
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Julia Taudevin belongs to a generation of Scottish theatre artists (which includes Rob Drummond, Kieran Hurley, Gary McNair and Jenna Watt) whose work is often built around their own stage personas. Blow Off, Taudevin’s latest piece, has her centre stage, but takes her work in a bold, new direction.
Self-described as “guerilla-gig-theatre”, it combines live rock music, narration (in both prose and poetry) and high-octane physical and vocal performance to tell a story driven by radical, feminist, anti-capitalist politics.
As third person narrator/rock singer/slam poet, Taudevin all but inhabits the central character of the story, a woman on the verge of an act of political terrorism. We are, quite emphatically, told nothing about this woman besides her sex and, increasingly, the workings of her mind.
“I’m not going to tell you what she looks like”, says the performer, before reeling off a series of other signifiers (hair colour, skin colour, facial features, body shape, clothing etc.) which she will not divulge. What we do learn, ultimately, about this anonymous woman, who we “wouldn’t notice” in the street, is that she has decided to become a 21st-century urban guerrilla, a one-woman Baader-Meinhof Gang.
What has made her a would-be female Unabomber, rather than a Jeremy Corbyn supporter or an Occupy activist? Insofar as such a transformation can be explained, Taudevin does so by way of her character’s political anger (not least against late-capitalism’s phallocentric symbols of power) being joined to a horrifying experience of physical assault by a man in the street.
The text itself is the stuff of a short story. In this production, however, form is at least as important as narrative content.
Taudevin is a dynamic and skilled actor and singer. Her performance is full of anger, pain and humorous, knowing sarcasm. The ever-present band are equally accomplished, giving the piece a permanently raw, edgy atmosphere.
The same, sadly, cannot be said for the script. For example, a long riff on the various euphemisms for the female genitalia is neither shocking nor particularly funny, but sounds, instead, like an adolescent imitation of The Vagina Monologues.
The twist in the tale should not be spoiled. Suffice it to say that there is a disappointing heavy-handedness in its referencing of important current events which is typical of the piece as a whole.
Blow Off is at Dundee Rep on September20; Traverse, Edinburgh, October 12 & 13; and Paisley Arts Centre, October 22
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 18, 2016
© Mark Brown