‘(Don’t) Objectify Me!’
For the Come As You Are festival at the Camden People’s Theatre, Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair rework and perform their self-written piece Man Up! The devised show sells itself as drag theatre, which questions traditional and socially ingrained gender labels. It asks us why boys and girls are ‘put, painted and paired together’. Although I wasn’t expecting to be particularly shocked as this type of so-called gender anarchy is not an unpopular topic within theatre, (i.e. most recently Rotterdam which gave transgender stories a voice on stage) I was excited going in as I’d only heard good things about Harding and Sinclair.
Harding and Sinclair are already on stage when the audience file in. As the audience settles, the radio buzz in the background flicks channels and a peppy American girl tells us how to get a man’s attention. Harding’s character ‘Milly’ (do I detect a hint of autobiography here?) is perfectly attired in a 50s dress, red lips and a shrill giggle. She listens to the advice carefully, while Sinclair stands on her half of the stage, looking like a trackie-clad chav stereotype from The Sun and The Mirror. Sinclair is established, by way of a soliloquy, as ‘Alex’ and the show really begins.
Harding is unpolished, but incredibly likeable as she talks us through her ability to flirt her way out of a ticket. The gender connotations of this story quickly juxtapose with her discussion of the problem of body hair and the trials of disposing of it. She demonstrates this with a plastic razor and chocolate icing and it makes me uncomfortable in a way I can’t explain.
Harding is tongue in cheek with her portrayal of women, not laughing at them, but placing them under a microscope. The audience, myself included, can’t help but laugh at her interactions with Sinclair in drag, ‘borrowing’ money for a bus fare.
The two shed their gendered costumes in between stories of bullying and objectification with a methodical grace. One of the biggest laughs was also one of the most tragic stories; Sinclair discussing how just the possessing of breasts and female genitals screams ‘objectify me!’ to certain members of the opposite sex.
While the audience is being swept from provocative story to wryly-narrated tale, the pair are changing. Sinclair dons women’s apparel and Harding exudes confidence in a man’s suit. They end up dressed as the same people they began as, with the individual quirks they had when dressed as the opposite gender. It’s a sweet, fitting end and they rightfully receive an encore.
Man Up! isn’t going to challenge your views; it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know about the state of gender. However, it zeros in on particular everyday events that draw our attention to our own actions and forces us to linger on them even as we laugh. It is intelligent, current and completely on the nose.
Man Up! played at the Camden People’s Theatre until September 30.
Photo: Roman Koblov