Review: No. 1. The Plaza

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Review of ‘No. 1. The Plaza’ from Getinthebackofthevan  (Cambridge Junction 10/4/14)

by Tamsin Flower

At first glance, ‘No. 1. The Plaza’ presents a conventional product of the performance art cannon. Filing in and sitting, we observe – a stage space devoid of all context other than its own. Furthermore, a sound and lighting deck are nakedly exposed upstage, surrounded by wires and gubbins. To our right is a refreshment table with a kettle…and DSL are two young women on bar-stools, wearing shiny, short apparel, playing air keyboard and violin to tunes from the musicals.

Lucy and Jen of ‘Getinthebackofthevan’ consummate an atmosphere of seedy cabaret – a suspicious brown substance is smeared all over their limbs and Essex-girl dresses. This tone of debauched clubland is built on by their first performative proposition – they will, we are told, be performing renditions of songs from the musicals. Their game of playing invisible instruments to a soundtrack of Sondheim and Lloyd Webber is built on by Lucy breaking into the perfectly pitched highs and lows of the ‘ballads.’ As she does, Jen interjects with flat-one liners or well-timed reiterations of the hyperbole Lucy wails…the song ‘I know him so Well’ from Chess is framed in such a way.

As Lucy gabbily introduces herself as the chatty, happy-go-lucky one and Jen monosyllabically cements her role as the straight-man, their dynamic as a comedy double-act becomes quickly evident. And it is this relationship dynamic that forms the foundation for each episode of this playful exploration. Throughout, cyclical thinking is manifested in repetitious physical or verbal games…They swing each other on the bar-stools, demonstrate how Lucy pretends to be a cat on Jen’s lap when vulnerable and muse on how the word ‘Sondheim’ can be emphasised differently to achieve different meanings. Much of the first half could be likened to the surreal antics of Green Wing, Smack the Pony or traditional female acts such as French and Saunders.

Predictably, the subtext of No. 1.’ is a sequence of questions ‘What is this really about?’ and ‘does it matter? Fortunately, the clues are not concealed…A central episode, in which Lucy and Jen show us around their invisible shared flat to the drone of seventies lounge music, is significant. The duo’s presentation of their pooh in little lunch-boxes and subsequent tactile playing with it is also telling. During the last third, a push-pull tussle between the pair in which Jen tries to keep Lucy out of the boundaries of the kitchen, results in the beginning of Lucy’s exposure; her vagina is on display. It is also left hanging there, the desire to cover-up being markedly absent from the scenario.

From this point, repetitious push and pull and verbal loops descend into what appears to be free improvisation – the performer ‘experiences the space’ and follows exhausted impulses…Lucy ambles off stage after a final burst of exuberance mimicking flash-dance, Jen swings around on her bar-stool making childish noises. Our protagonists have reached the rock-bed of primitive behaviour and finally disappear into blackout.

No. 1.  The Plaza will undoubtedly try the patience of the uninitiated Live-Art viewer. It teases our attention through repetitious games which reflect psyche rather than concrete situation. The effect of this will be liberating or horrifying for the audience member depending on the extra-textual baggage they bring to the auditorium. The show succeeds in reflecting on how we define entertainment – from positing emotive ballads in a mundane context to exhibiting the baseness of what we do (faeces) and what we are (nudity). In doing so, it surely fulfills its criteria and that of the performance art genre. The degree to which such a presentation is deemed worthy or cohesive will vary as much as the tastes, origins, backgrounds and training of its audience members.

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