Bad – Thinking theatre at its best. (Theatre Review)

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Bad

The Old Fitz Theatre Late Show

14 – 31 January. You can buy your tickets here. 

Photo Credits – Yael Stempler

Most welcome at the Old Fitz is the late night offering Bad, written and performed by Kate Walder and Penny Greenhalagh, an all girl clown performance exploring the question of ‘Bad’ theatre through the medium of  Commedia dell’arte in an intelligent and starkly brave performance. It’s a perfect accompaniment to Masterclass, which is delightfully performed if suffering in want of substance, for Bad‘s counter offer of substance wanting for stylish performance. Bad is all delightful, courageous heart, genuinely funny, confusing and discombobulating in its frantic, very public search for itself. It gleefully circumnavigates its own question (as provided in the short, pert notes to the production on line here) of what constitutes bad theatre even as it reveals and forbids self-examination. It’s a super silly production designed to laugh at audience expectations of what theatre might contain and what it has to offer.

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We’re all invited into the theatre (purchased tickets in hand) to see Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett in a show called “Mum, where’s my bucket?” The implications are immediate – we will love or hate the production depending on our relationship with culture and society, pulling apart certain technical aspects of the theatrical experience in order to justify our opinion that is based largely on reactionism to whatever particular cultural position is up our nose at the time. Surely the more we know about theatre, the more justified our critique becomes, and yet, it always comes back to the gut feel – the immediate response – the triumph of the belly over the mind (something we grapple with far more in this second decade of the new millenium than a heart/mind battle). When we’re told Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett won’t be in attendance that night, how do we feel? What do we think of the nameless fool who volunteers to replace them? Do we reach for the bucket in our overwhelming disdain?

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And yet in Bad, we always knew the stars weren’t going to attend, still we reserve judgement as if they were. When these two enormously clever women stand up to say to a small audience, “I will replace Cate Blanchett, I will replace Geoffrey Rush” are we enamoured, or repulsed? Greenhalagh and Walder sport clowns noses. Walder teeters about on tap shoes while Greenhalagh is a philosopher whose briefcase is a filing system for other ideas. They are naive, foolish and joyful – embodying all the ugliness of immediate concerted effort. They challenge our repulsion in an almost empty theatre with an enormously warm and generous heart. Somehow, despite their plodded efforts, I am better for having been their audience than I could imagine was ever necessary. Who are these women? Why are they doing this? What is bad?

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Commedia dell’arte was responsible, in part, for the emergence of the actress. It took the witty subversions and the masks (you think you have one thing but in fact you have another) to permit women onto the stage. How historically fitting that the late show at the Old Fitz brings Bad to its darker, subversive performance stage, here in an age where women still struggle for a voice in the theatre as with all arts and sciences. Bad questions the superiority of the art we thought we needed over the art that we got. We come to every artistic creation exploding with pent-up expectations. It is not arts job to satisfy that complacency, rather to toss a hysteria into the ego that confuses our version of reality. It is up to us to notice when something important happens that is different to what makes us comfortable. No where is this more important than in theatre, which has the advantage of intimate immediacy to throw us off our foolish game.

Commedia dell’arte was the place where we learnt that women could be on the stage. Bad is the place where we discover that good isn’t necessarily what we think it is. Absurdity is at its most subversive when two women combine where we came from to reveal where we are going.

And Bad does exactly that.

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