Edinburgh Festival: Small Talk (4 stars)

You know those films that are really gratuitous and you think, ‘What on Earth was the actress thinking doing that?’ Then you see an interview with her and she is talking about her character’s motivation and the director’s vision and you are like, ‘Wow, she thinks it’s Citizen Kane?’ Well, that’s how Antonia Grove’s beautifully performed, funny, provocative one-woman piece of dance theatre starts off – with a girl in a glittery dress telling us just how wonderful, creative and artistic it is to star in a movie set in a torture chamber.

As the words become more extreme, Grove’s body violently twists into unnatural shapes. One minute she’s an all-American starlet, the next a Hollywood action heroine being blasted across the stage – the supposedly “strong” woman we are constantly presented with who is, in fact, equally as archaic as the fluffy, blonde love interest.

From actresses who push themselves to places they don’t want to go, and justify it by claiming it is liberating, to a female stand-up comic seeking approval through laughs, Grove asks us to consider how much of the way we behave and look is for ourselves or other people. Her own appearance is constantly changing as she dons wigs and costumes, and we never really get to see the person beneath – just insights into women she describes as both “me and not me”.

Are we laughing at them because Grove is funny or because we think they are stupid? Is the stereotype of stupid women one we are all too ready to embrace? When Grove crumbles in front of some increasingly nasty recorded laughter, having delivered some whimsical female-centric anecdotes, it’s an uncomfortable moment of self-reflection.

Created in collaboration with Wendy Houstoun, it’s a piece that is constantly reinventing itself – moving from dance to spoken word to comedy and clowning – through which Grove explores whether it is ever really possible to just “be yourself”. As the frustration at feeling trapped in a series of pre-defined roles rips through the exhilarating choreography, we’re left to consider both who she and we really are.

Written for The Scotsman

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