Friday, February 27, 2015

'What the F*ck Is Love?' at the Roundhouse, 26th February 2015

Well, it's a combination of neurotransmitters, sex hormones and neuropeptides. When you spot an appropriate mate your subconscious zings, activating dopamine pathways in the brain. Vasopressin saturayes the ventral pallidum, as does oxytocin in the nucleus accembens. Meanwhile the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus mediates your attachment behaviour, making you go all gooey eyed as you lock eyes over a crowded dancefloor. This, in combination with a spritz  of testosterone and estrogen (and trace amines phenethylamine and tyramine) powers lust. That giddy fluttering in the heart? A neat cocktail of norepinephrine and serotonin, also contributing to your restless and decreased appetite.

Well, that's one way of looking at it anyway. Cushion (pronounced K'Shon) Collective have a few others. Love is the pining of an endangered albatross driven to online dating. Love is the maternal cannibalism of one woman and her prawnchild. Love is the masochistic self-hypnosis of a moth caressing a flame. Et cetera.

Cushion Collective are; Sam Reynolds, Fauve Alice, Jasmine Lee, Scarlett Lassoff, Gerald Curtis, Felix Briant, Hannah Davis, Sophie Wakefield and Jessica McKerlie. I'm familiar with nearly all of these performers, am friends with a couple and have worked closely with at two of them. At last year's Hackney WickED Festival they packed out The Yard Theatre, putting on a show that was by all accounts pretty wonderful. I wish I'd made it, but at the time I was coated in raw egg and thus friend to no-one.

Last night, in the studio theatre of the Camden Roundhouse, the Collective struck again. Using the dual misery/cuteness of Valentine's Day as a kicking off point, the artists explorrf love through cabaret, performance, comedy and music. Our guide was Sam Reynolds, who took the stage to the trashy plastic pop beat of #Selfie. Clad in denim hot pants he cavorted around the stage lasciviously rubbing his selfie stick. It's crude, but as a distillation of 21st century identity masturbation, thrusting a telescopic cock substitute at the audience while taking photos of yourself is hard to beat.

With that we're off, each performer getting two or three quick segments within the show. There weren't any duds, but there were a few performers that stood out for me, memorable moments that stick to the mind like a chewing gum chud on the bottom of a bus seat.

From L-R Sophie Wakefield, Jasmine Lee, Gerald Curtis, Felix Briant, Fauve Alice, Sam Reynolds, Scarlett Lassoff, Hannah Davis
This was a night peppered with fun costumes, twisted mermaids and feather-topped moths. Both were ace (the moth costume in particular), but the one that lodges firmest is Sophie Wakefield's albatross act. The conceit is that the problems of nature's loneliest bird can be solved with online dating. Taking the form of a cheesy infomercial, Wakefield (beaked, feathered and melancholy) mimed loneliness, brief happiness and breakup. It was goofy but unexpectedly touching, the naturally bird-like body language of the artist used to maximum effect.

Performances like this go a long way towards dispelling tired old performance art clich├ęs. Rightly or wrongly, the general perception of performance artists is of pretentious, obscurantist and painfully self-serious metropolitan hipsters. I know bunch of people who fit this description, eagerly seizing any opportunity to vanish up their own arse (which would be a fairly typical performance). With that in mind it's refreshing to see this pomposity pricked by Scarlett Lassoff, with her pitch perfect piss-take of Marina Abramovic.

Lassoff as Abramovic takes us through her marriage 'technique'. Selecting two members of the audience she leads them through satires of famous performances. Wigs are bound together, eye contact is forced and the 'Great Wall of China' meeting is recreated in slow motion. Throughout we're beset by Abramovic-a-like buzzwords, stentorian commands and that holier-than-thou stare as if she's got personal enlightenment solidly locked down. Now, I kinda like Abramovic's work, but boy oh boy does she prove to be a ripe target for a takedown.

My favourite performance of the night was to come almost at the end. Jasmine Lee's strange, intense, scary piece appeared to take inspiration from the surreal end of cinema and photography. Emerging with a piece of paper with a grass design printed upon it, she proceeded to gradually strip back herself. Running fingers through her hair she pulled ragged chunks out and threw them onto the floor, before inviting me to reach up and remove a shiny chemical face peel. The transparent, plasticky surface distorted her face for a moment, stretching it outwards before springing back to recognition.

Then, as she beckoned to the ceiling we noticed a large pink model prawn dangling from a rope. As Lee leapt up to snatch at it, the prawn danced from her fingers. Eventually she retrieved it, cradling it like a mother and baby. It was almost cute, almost. Then she ripped out its wide, passion-fruit eyes and bit into them, crushing seed and pulp around her face.

I have no idea what the hell this meant, but I deeply dug the whole Lynchian Eraserhead mutant baby murder vibe, the creepiness of the giant prawn imagery combining with Lee's natural gravitas to create something next to impossible to pin down. Everything at What the F*ck Is Love was funny, some were funny and touching, but only Jasmine's was funny and touching and magnetic - sucking me in perfect creepy confident vibes.

So a good night. To appreciate performance art it's usually best to remember the maxim that the artist is under no obligation to entertain the audience. Having an enjoyable time during a performance is strictly optional, true success lying in meaning, aesthetic, form and a thousand other intangible factors. But What the F*ck Is Love was all those as well as being hugely entertaining, which made it a super enjoyable night that everyone involved should be pleased with.

What the F*ck Is Love featured several people I know well. Ticket bought by me.

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