Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review: Holy Sissies and Sluts Batman!


By Sissies and Sluts Theatre Company.

After this production a friend said it was like being vomited on for two hours. I’ve thought about this description and think it’s close, but for me it was more like standing next to someone who’s dry retching for two hours. Nothing of actual substance comes up – however distasteful – but the scuzzy feeling of revulsion is unrelenting. You don't know whether to sidle towards the nearest exit or offer some kind of assistance.

As I sat stunned and despairing at the travesty unfolding before me I had a chance to reflect on the life choices that brought me to where I was. I thought about theatremaking and the history of satire and the changing role of its audience. I thought about the idea of the post-dramatic, about irony’s endless deferral of meaning and about the position of the critic in all of this. I also thought that I must have sustained some kind of severe head trauma shortly before agreeing to front up to this show.

The piece asks a question which has plagued philosophers throughout the ages: “What would happen if all of the characters in the Batman universe wanted to have sex with each other and everything around them all the time again and again and were being played by people with no discernible acting ability?” I think that was one of the Sphinx’s questions to Oedipus but my fact-checkers are off for the weekend so I’ll have to get back to you.

At no point does the production make a distinction between ‘conscious artistic choice’ and ‘basic neural activity required to function’. The whole catastrophe begins with Catwoman attempting to seduce Batman for some reason, and by seduce I mean she gives an inordinately elongated description of her vagina in all kinds of colourful terms and explains what she wants him to do with/to it. Batman doesn’t seem all that interested so Catwoman teams up with a bunch of other supervillains who either want to kill “the f—king bat-f—k-face f—k” or else have all kinds of intercourse with him or both (any distinction between sex and death was completely non-existent here). Characters continue to be introduced at random and sometimes disappear for an hour or more. The ‘plot’ manages the seemingly impossible task of being both utterly chaotic and mostly predictable.

But the anarchy lacks any energy at all and despite the constant references to paedophilia, the racist jokes, the putting down of disabled kids and the scatological framing of everything, it’s not even offensive. It seems to exist in a world where every taboo has been broken long ago and the only thing left to do is to play out empty rituals of transgression, if only to pass the time.

And this, weirdly, is where there’s something really interesting about the show. It’s very long for something with no redeeming features, and there’s an interval. Which means that if you choose to return to your seat after that interval, you’re actively choosing to become complicit in your own abuse. You can complain about how bad the show is – and the show of course means to be truly awful – but by not walking out you’re affirming that there is something being gained from the experience.

What I was thinking about this morning was an imperfectly remembered scene from Robert Coover’s Pinocchio in Venice (a horrible but memorable novel) in which the reimagined puppet comes across a carnival featuring a figure I think was called the Inverted Virgin. I could be wrong but the rough idea of the character is of the Virgin Mary turned inside out, with all of her internal organs on grotesque display. I can’t remember the function of the character but it stuck with me, and the idea of the inside-out body (which also figures large in Snuff Puppet’s Fringe show Snuff Club) is really intriguing. When the sacred and impenetrable Mary is flipped inside-out so that her innards (including unmentionable sex organs) are held out for anyone to view, does a new interior result? Does the once pristine exterior now become the invisible inside? It’s the same with pornography – by apparently showing everything, is a new absence produced?

Holy Sissies and Sluts Batman! does seem to inadvertently create such an absence. It takes the oft-remarked upon sexual subtexts of the campy Batman series and makes them the surface of the show, but what replaces that sub-stratum of significance? Can anything be read into the play that isn’t evident from the get-go? I guess by turning Batman inside out everything we look for in a story becomes internalised; including, really, any story itself. The stupid banality and excess put meaning and value and intent into an unapproachable place of secrecy; they come to occupy the position of the sacred which must not be shown. In fact, the need to avoid doing anything intelligent here actually confirms that idea of narrative or morality or complexity or character as a new kind of taboo.

None of this is anything more than a desperate attempt by me to make sense of an incredibly senseless show, but I have to say that I and the few people I spoke to afterwards found the entire encounter a weirdly refreshing one; kind of like colonic irrigation for your aesthetic sensibilities. Like bad TV or airline food or something, it’s completely unengaging but sort of comforting for that reason. It’s humiliating for all involved, sure, but at least that includes its audience.

Ends tonight at Pony.


richardwatts said...


Anonymous said...

i thought it was wonderful.
not only was it actually clever and funny and completly what the world of theatre needs it also had heart. i think you've missed the point, but thats ok.


Unknown said...

I liked it. At least I didn't get hit by a chicken carcass this time.

Anonymous said...

Lee Gambin just put this up on FB and I was laughing hysterically. I think this reviewer needs to understand that this kind of punk theater is exactly what Australia, a country so devoid of anything both confrontational and gleefully offensive with intelligence behind it, needs. It's a shame the reviewer doesn't "Get it". I saw this show and was in tears with laughter. Plus there were actually some moments where I went "Awww". It's good writing and the cast were terrific.

Now, back to my morning viewing, whilst working the box office at the Nova, of pornography.