Julia Croft is a contemporary performance artist, first manipulating her own body in an effort to take hold of the microphone, then the sound of her voice to add emphasis on a distorted soundscape and drill home truths about language and gender. They’re just words, they’re human constructs that we have created and categorised in an effort to exert control. Power Ballad rips apart this illusion with screeches and screams – a conceptual piece that fails to hit home in anything greater than its basic idea. This is a show that lacks connection in both its execution and direction.
Croft creates certain exercises to highlight the intrinsic nature of gender in our patriarchal society. By omitting words that have any such connotations in a speech she gives, we are left with very little to make sense of. It’s harrowing, the extent to which we assign sex and hence hierarchical priority to so many genderless pieces of speech. She tests the parameters at first – the words of language and communication are broken down past all recognition and distorted with otherworldly, alien implications. But the exercise lacks push, it’s so drawn out that we lose the thread of reasoning until too late in each piece. We are disengaged for too long to be recalled by the end.
Conceptually, Power Ballad has powerful implications – the nature that these dissections of speech are only words. Feminist theatre is spouted with inflammatory reactions, a devilish, soulless manipulation of Croft’s voice to lend sinister qualities to the idea itself. The concept holds no negativity – it’s a neutral fact that we ascribe feeling onto. Croft’s middle portion of the show hits us with impact from the off – it brings to us the idea that society has decided how it relates to such subjects by ascribing emotion to what is ultimately an emotionless skeleton of an idea. As Croft pours out streams of consciousness to this effect, they loop over each other in an unbearable din, cleverly poking at the white noise clouding the fundamental arguments in such a topic.
Power Ballad is a show with powerful potential, but an overly aggressive and confused delivery. It feels too sporadic to have impact, too disconnected to relate to the audience. Croft has a lot to say, but it gets sucked into the white noise of conversation that she is trying so desperately to avoid.
Power Ballad played Summerhall until 27 August 2017. For more information, see www.edfringe.com