Review: This Really Is Too Much, Blue Elephant Theatre

It’s not as though gender hasn’t been explored in theatre. That doesn’t mean we should stop – the problems haven’t stopped – but it does mean finding a creative way to put your commentary across is harder than it ever has been. The path is well and truly trodden. Kudos then to Gracefool Collective, for proving sometimes it’s not what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it that really counts. This Really Is Too Much (great title), played Blue Elephant Theatre over the weekend. It’s a compact hour of dance, movement and physical theatre, which is enlightening and entertaining in equal measure.

The Collective (Kate Cox, Sofia Edstrand, Rachel Fullegar and Rebecca Holmberg) have written and devised the piece, with some extracts coming from Kate Bornstein’s Hidden: A Gender (in Gender Outlaw). The show really benefits from an outside influence, and creates an academic but anarchic tone – a slightly off the wall discussion over correct use of pronouns is a nice moment, a beauty queen’s inability to mix her socialist views with her image is another. It’s good writing, but the real creativity comes through the fluidity and physicality of the actors, using their bodies as extensions of the text. Clearly ‘collective’ is the word – the group are as tight-knit as your Granny’s sweater. Always in the right place at the right time, speaking together, moving in such excellent unison, it simply makes everything so polished and such a delight to watch. I love a good lift, and there are some nice ones here, while a sequence involving walking backwards across some chairs is a favourite of mine. The actual choreography of some dance numbers was effective if not totally memorable, whilst one of the downsides to having such a slick piece is that when technical issues do raise their head, it’s ten times more noticeable.

This is as much about commentary as it is movement though – putting people into boxes, dictating how they should act, what they should wear, talking over and under them. Image plays a big part, especially women being exploited by the media. “You’ve never had it so good” says the cast, as smart a line of dialogue you’re likely to hear all year, as well as a cheering and terrifying prospect. But it’s how we’re told all this that provides This Really Is Too Much it’s magic. Like Pictionary – the Collective lead the audience to the root of an idea, drip feeding them through visuals. It’s when they put lipstick on, before kissing themselves all over. It’s when they wear very little, trying to flog us mundane but appropriate items – including lettuce.

The show’s standout image has Fullegar, clad in a bikini, sports socks and high heels, running round and round the stage, with no sign of stopping. It’s funny because it’s ridiculous, but dark because it looks flipping painful. A cyclical issue for sure, but one we see to become more and more hysterical, the more exhausted Fullegar gets. It’s over-sexualisation (the bikini), and how we perceive glamour and strength to be contradictions (socks and shoes). It says so much, without uttering a line of dialogue – only the best theatre can do that

When your base level works then you’re allowed to play – This Really Is Too Much is entertaining first, then intelligent and meaningful on top. Gracefool Collective have set a standard in visual storytelling, whilst being unapologetic in what they say. Looks like that path can take a bit more beating yet.

This Really Is Too Much played Blue Elephant Theatre until November 12.

Photo: David Lindsay