[Review:] TRAGIC SCENES OF LEGENDARY WOMEN WHERE SNAKES WERE (KIND OF) PRESENT, Blue Elephant Theatre, London.

This performance, directed by Georgia Murphy, is part of the Wild Shenanigans Comedy Festival currently performing at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

In the most positive way possible, this performance definitely features in a band of the most ridiculous, whimsical and bewildering performances I have seen. It demands a certain attention, response and engagement from the audience that one finds rarely but is both terrified to seek yet enthralled to witness. Witnessing, I believe, is key to this performance. The audience member is not a passive spectator nor an overly active ingredient but a witness to a freak show of wonder, shock and intrigue.

Though rather predictable in terms of its tone and structure, this performance delivered a rare, special comedy from the very beginning. Absurd and farcical, its repetitive structure enabled for a strong comprehensibility of an otherwise ludicrous experience.

Both actresses, Nina Divina and Lucia Bombilla, performed their characters in a beyond-caricaturistic style, which was a good choice for this performance. The two played the role of a faulty showman and her assistant: one restricted and obedient; the other demanding and ostentatious. Subversions and exchanges of these roles between the two performers was a quirky feature, and characterisation was nevertheless consistent throughout. The stressed foreign quality of the performers, accents and all, leading us through wormholes into historical realms was clearly a predominant and decisive feature of this performance, and I can only comment that perhaps this could be reined in at some points, being rather Orientalist in nature. This is especially the case for Bombilla who also needed to work on her diction. Whilst indistinguishable blabbering is comical at first, its repetition can become irksome and distracting. I should note that costume, whilst positively hysterical, also had this dubious, Orientalist effect.

Having no set, this performance depended primordially upon the actor’s ability to engage an audience. This was certainly the case for Divina and Bombilla. Aided by a superfluous amount of props, emphasising the performance’s hectic, ridiculous nature and its deliberately cheap-looking, utilitarian aesthetic, the dramatic text and the actresses synergised tremendously. Their characterisations were true to the text. There were quite a few moments, however, where improvisation was hit-and-miss or lacklustre.

Audience interaction is always a thorny domain. From very early on, this performance demands a vigorous audience interaction. Divina most certainly handled this task well, maintaining comedy and persona whilst negotiating with rejects, hesitancies and discomforts. Audience interaction and participation are usually very tumultuous and awkward and habitually find themselves vilified by me! But their seemly function in this performance was most commendable. I will say that the switch between a self-contained performance and one which involves the audience could have been better introduced, however, and kissing an audience member takes it that little bit too far in a most inappropriate way. With audience members ultimately participating when needed, I cannot comment on the performance’s ability to adapt to the absence of their participation, but it did seem as though areas of the performance depended rather crucially upon these interactions. I would be wary of giving so much importance to external influences.

The choice to divide the audience into teams with little agency and [very little time for] collaboration was also a questionable idea. I feel this performance could consider more carefully when its audience is needed and why. Interactions were, mostly, hilarious, but all decisions should not just be made via comedic reasoning but for purpose.

Accentuating again that ostentatious quality, lighting was deliberate and facilitative. It was especially effective in what I shall continue to call the “wormhole” scenes to have a shift from harsh stage lighting to a minimal handheld lantern. However, it would be better to raise the house lights when Divina enters the audience. To keep the stage illuminated made for a technical disconnect in these moments. I should also note here that Bombilla was rather motionless when left alone on stage at these times. There should always be something to watch. I would be careful as to how much of the backstage area is exposed as well. Even with its meta-theatrical mood, illusion and deliberate deconstruction is key to this performance and must be carefully organised.

The comedy in this performance was cogent, having a clear field and tone. The ending, however, really let it down. It seemed fragmented from the rest of the performance in its structure, dialogue and narrative. The realm of the dead had little pertinence and gave an otherwise unwieldy performance a wonted, regular end. To focus upon three so-called legendary women, however, was a good decision. Any less would have made for spectators feeling cheated, and any more would have spoiled quality.

“A performance with a strong premise, personality and comedy yet still needing both slight and major tweaks here and there.”

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