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I’m an intersectional feminist unicorn!

30 June 2018 Suzanne Frost

When a dramaturg from the other side of the world urges you to go see a show by a fellow Kiwi who is “at the forefront of feminist theatre in New Zealand”, who wouldn’t be intrigued. Julia Croft has received rave reviews fore her show Power Ballad at Auckland Fringe and Edinburgh 2017, where she was shortlisted for the prestigious Total Theatre award. Now the powerhouse performance is at Battersea Arts Centre for 3 days only, before Croft heads on to Ireland and later Canada.

Feminist Theatre – what a loaded phrase and Croft is well aware of it. With Power Ballad she aims to investigate and deconstruct contemporary language and gendered linguistic, all to the soundtrack of rocking 80s ballads. The show is billed as “part lecture, part karaoke party” and this is a pretty accurate description of the serious and the hilarious aspects always closely intertwined.



To Patti Smith’s “Pissing in a river” Croft enters topless, in tight jeans, her face almost completely covered by a long shaggy wig instantly suggesting a rockstar like persona. In a sequence of elaborate choreography she slithers and contorts to direct the phallic shape of a microphone to wander across her body, she licks it, swallows it, gags on it, she lets the cable lower down her back until the mic swings between her legs – it is provocative and uncomfortable, at times passive and aggressive, masturbatory, then violent, but kind of masterful as an act of pure physical theatre. That microphone takes an awful beating during the course of the show as she hits it, bangs it on the floor and scratches it across the wall creating sounds that are non-verbal but expressive nevertheless, creating rhythms or melodies which she samples and mixes with the help of a loop station.
 
This little box of tricks lets her pitch her voice, high to the register of Mickey Mouse and low so she sounds more male, a most effective theatrical device. Wasn’t it just the other day that Jason Cundy publicly complained about female commentators at the World Cup sounding “annoying”? Croft playfully exploits the notion that more attention and gravitas is given to the male voice as she lectures us on words and meaning. ‘Patriarchy’, ‘oppression’, ‘freedom’ – just words, she tells us. Sticks and stones and all that. More and more, her heated speech gets peppered with misogynistic slurs; ‘bitch’, ‘slut’, just words, right. In the middle of that she drops a joke about domestic violence like a bomb. Just words, yet they feel like a whiplash. The damage is done.

 
On she goes teaching us the difference between fact and feeling, and in a suit jacket, with her distorted male voice and a wig cap over her head, she looks remarkably completely genderless. Turkey is a fact, Christmas dinner is a feeling. England is a fact, Europe is a feeling (indeed). But feminism? Feminism is a f….. it fizzles out. A loop of the repetitive phrase “I don’t know” suddenly morphs into “No I don’t” in a powerful investigation of consent.
 
There are so many ideas in this performance and interesting stimuli to make you think. It is also very funny and Croft is a no holds barred rockstar, completely exhausting herself, giving everything. There is quite a bit of audience participation, a lot of karaoke singing and some primal screaming required. In the end, Croft poses in a dress literally mostly made of hair getting blasted by a wind machine while singing to Annie Lennox – the classic image of a pop diva or one of the archetypes that are available for women who want to be heard.

 
For a show about language there are precious little actual words in the script and maybe that is the point. You can’t escape the innate power structures and gendering that comes with our vocabulary. So if you can’t escape it Crofts is trying to smash it all to pieces and start again. Impossible, intriguing, damn interesting.
 
Power Ballad is at Battersea Arts Centre 28 - 30 June. Tickets are £12.
 
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