Theatre review: Shoplifters, Shopgirls


AT THE beginning, two women stand facing one another, using their voices in powerful, almost operatic style to vocalise around phrases like "yellow T-shirt" and "stripey pants". Then, in the dark – and recurring throughout – there are beautifully-read voice-overs from the diary of someone who might be a young gay man living in Glasgow, recording what clothes he wears, and what signals they send.

There's a scene where half-a-dozen performers, under the direction of artist Clare Stephenson, arrange themselves like shop-window dummies; one painstakingly puts on a pair of socks without sitting down, or bending at all.

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There's a love song, delivered in classic chanteuse style by a tiny blonde in black. And finally, the show takes a swerve towards a more theatrical style, as a taller woman with sleek red hair stands in front of a dazzling white venetian blind, belting out Gertrude Stein-style strings of apparently meaningless letters and sounds.

This is Shoplifters, Shopgirls, created by Clare Stephenson and Sophie Macpherson for the Tramway. It's full of embryonic ideas about gender and personality as performance, and about the articulation of identity through a heavily commercialised, designer-label clothing culture. Its aesthetic is part visual art installation, part 1970s-style Warhol-esque happening. And it's so much a work-in-progress, dedicated to an ethic of open-ended exploration, that the act of reviewing it seems pointless – it's not so much a work of art as a private creative process made visible, and one with no interest in reaching a final curtain.