I’d really love to give Wild Bore a scathing review. Something super witty and cutting, a vaguely understandable and gratuitous metaphor for it’s appallingness, or a dad-level pun correlating the play’s ‘shitty’ dramaturgical decisions to its quality. I want to do this, of course, in the hopes that my biting critique could make it into the play proper, read aloud and incorporated into the madness.
But alas, I can’t. If critiquing is first and foremost about coming up with clever pull quotes and terrible similies (‘Al Pacino walks like an anchovy and looks like an unmade bed’) , it’s second and secondmost about giving an honest opinion (third and thirdmost its about schmoozing over free finger sandwiches and beer). And so, in lieu of anything especially clever and biting, I’ll be honest. Wild Bore is pretty damn good.
The premise is simple: three performers (Zoe Coombs Marr; who won the Barry Award to this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival for ‘Trigger Warning’, Ursula Martinez from the UK and Adrienne Truscott from the States) sit on a panel to break one of the cardinal rules of art: don’t respond to your critics. But respond the ladies do. And what a response it is.
The trio handpicked a variety of entertaining, controversial and just plain dumb reviews, including a bunch from their own shows, and proceeded to hilariously lampoon them on stage. They begin by, as literally as possible, talking out of their arses.
Three naked bums on a black-clothed trestle table is certainly a way to grab the audience’s attention and once they had it, the trio didn’t let go. What follows is a biting and very tongue-in-cheek attack on critics who willfully misinterpret in the name of an entertaining review. As Coombs Marr points out, holding Yorick’s skull and reciting the ‘To be or not to be’ monologue: one man’s incompetent whimsy is another man’s dramaturgical design. It’s not criticism that the trio has a problem with; it’s just the bad stuff that they don’t like.
Indeed, as much as the performance makes fun of the verbosity and wanky pomp of review writing, it also celebrates criticism as an art form, almost reifying some of the choicest descriptors. They might not be happy with the review, but the trio is happy to marvel in its multi-syllabic pageantry. The ladies explore the critical vitriol aimed at works of theatre in a way that, though sardonic, never feels mean. Which is more than can be said for their detractors.
Of course, there is the question of what inspired three highly experiences, award-winning and critically-approved artists to take arms against and slings and arrows of outrageous reviews? A few answers offer themselves. One might be to highlight the problem in arts journalism and engage with reviewers to do something about it, or to at least understand that, when a performer builds a literal wall between herself and the audience, it is NOT for NO APPARENT REASON.
Another possibility is because, let’s be honest, there’s just so much good stuff there to have a laugh about. Yet another is to explore the politics and sexism inherent in reviewing theatre, especially theatre made by women. Indeed, in a number of searing asides, Coombs Marr jovially upbraids reviewers for taking their patriarchal assumptions about what theatre should and shouldn’t be into a show and then reviewing it on that solid foundation of disengagement and expectation.
Cleverly using props to mirror and make fun of reviewer’s comparisons, the trio treat the audience to everything from fake poo to the extra-tall-man trick, and of course, from women in flesh coloured underwear to women dancing naked. Fast-paced and energetic, it’s hard to remember exactly how one thing led to another led to another but it doesn’t matter anyway. Indeed, by the time the fourth performer, Krishna Istha, enters the scene, the audience isn’t even surprised.
Istha is a transgender and, in a play full of white women, notably brown actor who challenges the privilege with which the three cisgender, white and middle-class approach their reviews. They speak to the difficulty of even being cast when your body doesn’t conform to those patriarchal assumptions mentioned before. At the same time, Istha also challenges their casting in Wild Bore at all, pondering whether or not their presence on stage is merely to fill the diversity quota, a tacked-on afterthought with no real substance. This conversational musing is the height of meta in a play that thrives on that particular postmodernist trimming.
Self-aware and self-deprecating, Wild Bore is a radically inventive, genre-defying and fiercely feminist comedy about theatre writing and theatre doing. While probably not for the kids or the prudes among us (in case you missed it, there’s A LOT of nudity), Wild Bore is pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh. And maybe think a bit too.
Created and performed: Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez, Adrienne Truscott and Krishna Istha
Set and Costume Design: Danielle Brustman
Lighting Design: Richard Vabre
Sound Design: Raya Slavin
Stage manager: Harriet Gregory
Playing at the Malthouse 17 May – 4 June