There’s been a lot of shit around lately. In Christian Cresoli’s La Merda, still touring after a ridiculously successful Edinburgh run two years ago, a woman sits naked on a stool and describes her binge/purge cycle of eating and defecating to meet the required weight for an advertisement audition. In Barrel Organ’s Nothing, another woman becomes obsessed with shitting on people’s doorsteps. Now in Getinthebackofthevan’s Number 1, The Plaza, two women sing numbers from Wicked and Blood Brothers smeared in supposedly actual human faeces. What does all this shit mean?
I’m getting ahead of myself. The set-up of Number 1, The Plaza is a variety show, “an ‘evening with’-vibe in the afternoon” intercutting musical theatre songs with back-and-forth banter about performers Jennifer Pick and Lucy McCormick’s (ostensible) relationship. The two are decked out in ratty extensions and gaudy dresses, skidmarked with what we’re led to believe is their genuine shit. One had pasta, one had a pasty. Now it’s all over the floor and up their arms and legs.
Their act plays out as a sort of meta-commentary on itself, where Pick explains that she’s the open, earnest one, and McCormick says “I’m dry.” The dynamic is compulsive to watch, a mutually dependent and destructive double-act drinking wine and talking about double-acts. They tell us they live together, and at one point turn the stage into a floor plan of their supposed London flat, at No 1, The Plaza – before taking turns to wrestle and drag each other, naked, into the kitchen. It’s repetitive, it’s deliberately indulgent and excessive, and probably infuriating if you’re waiting for something to “happen” – but just so hideously hilarious and complex if you sit back and take it in.
Back to the shit. It’s interesting that these pieces could all be seen to depict women who are alienated from their own bodies, or from themselves – the Vandal in Nothing poos on porches as an ambiguous act of earthy, human connection when “hate-fucking” isn’t enough. The fluctuating form of La Merda‘s anally expulsive speaker is dictated by an advertising corporation, and then becomes a metonym for her country. One of the themes that seem to crawl out of The Plaza‘s campy, scatological mess is how much you give of yourself as an artist, as a female performer, and particularly as a naked woman on the stage – the subtle power-shift that occurs when a woman removes her clothes in front of an audience.
The grotesquery of the crap disrupts the male gaze, sure, but also comes off as a desperate attempt to reconcile the naked human body with that which is performed, and with the person who owns it. Wailing out ‘Defying Gravity’ with her skirt hitched around her waist, vulva hanging defiantly out, Pick’s performance feels like a fierce struggle to be the artist, rather than the muse.
But this is still artifice; the shit, it transpires, is fake – peanut butter, chocolate spread, ginger cake and water. The spectacle of imagined human waste is in stark contrast to the flashy, possibly imagined elite apartment that the pair live in. Their obsessive descriptions of their flat and home habits seem to point towards a comment on how much artists chew up their own lives and expel them into their work, but equally a lurid fantasy about the lifestyles they are able (or not) to afford. The sight of two performers pretending to be in a luxury London pad while actually rolling around in sewage is a pretty grim sign of the times.
Number 1, The Plaza was at Latitude Festival.