Saturday 5 June 2010

Bryony Kimmings - Sex Idiot - New Wolsey Studio (Pulse '10)

[Edit: since this review, Sex Idiot has won a Total Theatre Award, gained a perfectly respectable review from Lyn Gardner and become the toast of the Forest Fringe. I have no idea whether the show has changed from what I saw, or whether I'm in a humourless minority, but it's probably worth reading a few other reviews beyond this one]

There’s a problem with Sex Idiot, namely that it’s unclear whether it’s the most rubbish “performance art” you’ve ever seen or an unfunny character comedy pastiche of the worst “performance art” “Bryony Kimmings” has ever seen.

It doesn’t matter, though, since it’s excruciating either way.

The basic premise of the show is “Bryony Kimmings” talking about herself (I'm going to keep her in quotation marks for a bit, because I'm not at all convinced she's actually a real person). Or, rather, roughly the last decade of her sexual history, occasioned by the discovery that she recently caught Chlamydia, and that she'd broken up with a boyfriend, had to move house, and so ended up going through boxes of old emails and letters from ex-partners. It later transpires that she caught Chlamydia off her new partner, so all the “soul”-searching turns out to have been unnecessary. But, here it all is anyway.

Her sexual history is wholly unremarkable for someone of her age. She's had a four “serious” boyfriends and slept with some other people in between or during them. She takes an hour to tell us about this.

There is the alternative that none of this is specifically true (or at least it is based on nothing more than the entirely predictable relationships and break-ups that a vast majority of people have in their twenties). Which would beg the question: why go to these lengths to make up and talk about something so utterly, utterly trite?

Except that these banalities are the peg from which she hangs the puzzling “performance art” dimension of the show. This is the element which could qualify the piece as “character comedy” – a kind of mini-narrative satirising this “artist” who creates these “performances” to mark “significant” emotional episodes in her life (“I call this the dance of the lost baby” – Really. I shit you not. And the “dance” itself is terrible. Unwatchably terrible. And not even in a “it would be funny if a “performance artist” *said* that” kind of car-crash, comedy-of-cruelty sort of a way. Instead, it’s just terrible.)

The show’s one real achievement is that it achieves a kind of anti-catharsis. Instead of cheering you up, making you laugh, moving you, or reminding you of the astonishing feats of talent, imagination, generosity and nobility of which the human animal is capable, this show really does make you feel the sheer pointlessness of it all. More than Kafka, more than Camus, more than Beckett, "Bryony Kimmings" is the “artist” who most makes you feel the grinding, grating, relentless banality of human existence.

Even all this might be excusable if there were a scintilla of wit. There isn’t.

Oh, but there are songs. She can't sing, but there are songs. That might be a joke too, either because the songs are meant to be funny, or because it’s meant to be funny that this made-up “performance artist” is singing them. In the event, they aren't funny on either level. By way of example, one song is a list of words for vagina set to the tune of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, complete with Kimmings doing the words-on-pieces-of-paper video. It’s an ok concept, if just about the most hackneyed imaginable – and one that feels like pre-existing material being crow-barred into an already ramshackle structure. She then adds ineptitude to unoriginality by having all the words written onto piece of cardboard which are too thick to hold many of. So she writes words on both sides. And then has to rotate the pieces of card rather than coolly dropping them as Dylan does. Perhaps that’s a visual gag too. It just looks like someone not really knowing what they’re doing. Oh, and she runs out of words and phrases for vagina about halfway through verse two and has to start repeating them or making them up. Again, maybe that’s part of the complex matrix of humour.

The fact that you can’t tell if it’s meant to be a satire of “performance art” (which itself could be a satire of the sort of satire that people who know nothing about performance art make when satirising performance art) or if she really means these things to be comic pieces of performances in their own right is pretty indicative of the level of total failure we’re looking at here.

In short, all the jokes are rubbish, and if that’s the joke, then this a particularly rubbish example of that one-joke joke.


Ian Shuttleworth said...

Reminds me of an early-1990s Edinburgh Fringe show, "The Courtship Of Inanna And Dumuzi", in which an Israeli guy and a chick (not a woman, or a girl, definitely a chick) from, if memory serves, South Carolina, told us about their relationship and how it wasn't always smooth but they did love each other really, intercutting this with extracts from the ancient Babylonian legend of the title, containing lines like, "Who will plough my vulva?"

Why do you bother, mate?

Andrew Haydon said...

Same reason as any of us bother, I guess - it might have been good...

Hopefully I'll get round to posting my Poland 3 - Iran 2 review reasonably soon (probably after The Man), the seeing of which justifies any number of Sex Idiots along the way...

Anonymous said...

One really shouldn't enjoy reading other people getting shat on, but that was extremely good fun.

Claudia said...

You clearly have no sense of humour.

Also, might I enquire as to how old you are? As a young woman also i completely identify with Bryony, whether she is a character or true to life. Woman do not necessarily have a million serious partners, in fact four does seems like a correct number is assuming she became sexual mid teens and is now only 29, as surely serious relationships mean one year plus?
her song about torturing someone if they cheat on her is something any woman can identify with, as although irrational, we can all fantasise about the sick things we shouldn't but could do if someone we loved did that to us.

I think you're out of touch and sad.

Get a life and get laid, you theatre "critic".