WILD Bore might show you some buttocks, but it won’t give you a bum steer on bad reviews, Claire Smith discovers
‘We thought, what if we do an incredibly boring show about feminism with no gimmicks.We could just be incredibly boring and talk out of our arses for an hour,” says Adrienne Truscott of the thinking behind Wild Bore, her new collaboration with Zoe Coombs Marr and Ursula Martinez. Which is why the show opens with three naked bottoms, lined up along a trestle table.
It is everything that is exciting and great about a bad review. It is commenting on something while doing it
A deliberately anarchic, subversive and mind-bending work, Wild Bore’s text is taken from bad reviews – which appear to be describing events unfolding live on stage. “It is a like a bad review unfurling live before your eyes,” says Coombs Marr. “It is everything that is exciting and great about a bad review. It is commenting on something while doing it in a way that becomes a giant feedback loop.”
So far, says Martinez, the response has been good. “We knew we were taking some risks and being a bit provocative. And also when you are dealing with humour it is nerve-racking because until you put it in front of an audience you don’t know if jokes are going to work. It is quite surreal and Dada in places.”
Wild Bore is not an act of revenge on reviewers, but it does force the audience and critics to consider that what happens on stage, in front of their eyes, happens for a reason. All three performers plundered their own reviews for material.
Coombs Marr won rave reviews and was shortlisted for the Edinburgh Comedy Award for her show Trigger Warning, about a hopeless male comic discovering his inner lesbian clown. But for Wild Bore she went back to the reviews she received for Oedipus Schmoedipus – which featured a drawn out and bloody mash-up of theatrical death scenes.
“There were some pretty unfair critiques. There was a lot of silly scatological humour but we weren’t really given credit for the work we did. The show wasn’t really ready. But people took real umbrage at it. It is funny to revisit the early critiques because it has gone on to be really successful for us.”
Ursula Martinez, an Olivier award-winning English comic and performance artist fêted for pulling red handkerchiefs from her naked body in cult cabaret Le Clique, was stunned by a review of her show Free Admission in which she builds a wall between herself and the audience. The critic, who said Martinez builds a wall “for no apparent reason” may regret using the phrase if he or she comes to see Wild Bore.
“For no apparent reason” is one of the recurring phrases in the show, repeated and repeated until the words sound completely idiotic. “As if it were by dramaturgical design,” is another. “Sometimes performers and artists are trying to create a new language,” says Martinez, “which means you are challenging existing language.”
Adrienne Truscott, who won the Edinburgh Comedy Award Panel Prize in 2013 for Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else, was both irritated and inspired by the drubbing she received the following year, for the provocatively titled Adrienne Truscott’s A One Trick Pony.
“There was a sense of irony in that show that a lot of reviews failed to see,” Truscott says. “I opened the show with the shittest idea I could think of. I played Snow Patrol’s If I Just Lay Here and just lay there. It absolutely outraged some people. But I am not some insecure 25-year-old. If I have made a show that is not good enough I can treat their reviews as feedback. I genuinely knew I hadn’t put enough work into it because I was still touring Asking For It.
“But I did see some misogyny and some glee in some of the writing. I also had some strange reactions from other performers – I would joke with them and say, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not contagious.’”
The making of Wild Bore has been a genuine and joyous collaboration. “It’s made me more aware of what we have in common,” says Coombs Marr. “Doing this show has been about finding the Venn diagram of where the three of us cross over. We all have a pretty conceptual and slightly irreverent relationship to form.”
“It feels like we have made a new piece that could only have been made by the three of us,” says Martinez. “I think fairly quickly we had an idea of what we wanted it to look like and feel like. I think we look like three performers who are comfortable together and the three of us perform really well together.”
Truscott agrees. “It doesn’t look like any of our work individually – and of what people expect of us – Adrienne does something with her vagina, Zoe does something in drag, Ursula is naked and fabulous.”
The three performers spend a surprisingly large part of the show with their naked bottoms in the air. But the idea is not to demonise critics, but to decontextualise them. It is a cunning way to discuss theatre while stripping it naked of its tricks – in a panel show discussion which might be boring if it was not performed by three naked bottoms – which in itself is a theatrical trick.
The sense that everything is deliberate is so persuasive that in Melbourne, when the theatre was hit by a genuine power cut, no-one in the audience could actually be persuaded it was a real emergency.
The three performers hope the work will provoke a conversation about art and criticism which will go beyond the walls of the Traverse and become a wider discussion of how audiences, critics and performers talk about theatre.
“We are really excited to be doing it in Edinburgh in the middle of all these artists who are going through what we are talking about,” says Truscott. “We all need to respond to our critics. What if you tell them: ‘You are not going to have the last word this time.’”
• Wild Bore is at the Traverse Theatre, until 27 August, various times.