Sunday, July 20, 2014

Of Saints and Go-Go Boys

Gosh, I oughta just take up a permanent pew down at Toynbee Hall - last night I saw PanicLab's Genet inspired sex-cult soap opera, "Of Saints and Go-Go Boys", there. Let me start by asking a perhaps impertinent question (and doing so as an admirer of Genet); Is it ever possible to present his novels onstage without drowning in cliché? Genet's work has become so iconic, in queer culture (via Fassbinder, John Waters and friends), and has moreover has been upcycled out into mainstream culture (via Warhol and Gaultier) that even those who haven't read his work feel as though they've experienced his infamous melange of psychedelia, camp, Catholicism and sexual violence. His novel's have been of such vast influence and importance, that absurdly perhaps, the source material can feel very sophomore. But that is merely an opening musing, in case you were to think "Oh jeeez, not again...", because there is much to be enjoyed in this piece, if one can move through the blasé veneer of expectations which imagines that because one has seen something once, one has seen it all. I wonder, would anyone in their right mind decline the opportunity to gaze a while at The Bar at the Follies-Bergere because they had already seen it as a postcard on a fridge door, as they were stealing their lover's room mate's jam?

I digress.

The three performers are strong, notably Zachariah Fletcher as Divine who modulates between vicious, hilarious and devastating with uncanny grace. The text is used beautifully, and imaginatively, with each performer having their own language; Divine has her microphone like a love-lorn Sartrean nightclub singer, Our Lady of the Flowers is pre-recorded and played back on an archaic tape-recorder, Darling speaks unamplified and direct. The third is perhaps the least successful, placing him as both the emcee and our guide, as well as the remorseless, cruel master of this world of ecstatic exploitations. It doesn't quite ring true, though perversely it does lead us to perhaps the most brilliant moment. Darling gestures to the naked and leashed Our Lady of The Flowers who kneels before two dog dishes (one full of peaches and cream, one full of dog food) and asks a member of the audience which bowl he wants to see this beautiful, naked, terrified boy eat from. There is a palpable moment of shock as we collectively realize our culpability as on-lookers. The selected audience member takes a while before saying, "Dog Food," quite definitively. Heavily reminiscent of Pasolini's Salo this scene (more even the moments of blood letting and ass-shaving) was a challenge to watch and by far the most provocative image presented.

The carnal comradeship between the three characters sometimes failed to catch light. Though there are several graphic moments, a few lacked the attendant intimacy to make it real, as witnessed in one tender kiss between Divine and Our Lady of the Flowers, which had more of the genuine eroticism and familiarity that marks physical connection between lovers. That's not to say it's not sexy, there's sex appeal in spades, the three performers ooze physical appeal in a triangulation of different ways; it's just sometimes less is more.

That's hardly the ethos of the piece though, as scenes overlap, the characters come through the meandering crowd across a set strewn with rose petals, projections, disco lights and discarded gowns. It's not minimalist theatre, and it does achieve some pretty great things owing largely to the fearless nature of the performers and their inquisitive, relentless search for new alchemical elements. Of particular note is a spasmodic sequence in which all three thrash around on the sofa to throbbing techno, in a tina tableau after party situation, an awkward skull-fucked threesome presented as tanz theatre. (Though the dance elements of the piece were for me some of the weakest, in this moment it was pitch-perfect). Here the modernization of the text worked wonderfully and gave it both a new relevance, and cause for revisiting the original.That is the highest compliment I can perhaps give, that the show made me want to get back to reading Genet.

So what do we have? A piece which is perhaps uneven in parts, yes, but one which does achieve some startling moments of the kind I have only experienced in truly exceptional work. The weaknesses of the piece gave birth to its most powerful images, which is a radical and exciting proposition for theatre. These moments that struck me so, startled me (and I suppose forced me to write this up) sit alongside a mouthful of blood being spat at Fiona Shaw in Mother Courage at the National, and Michael Clark's dancers jumping into the orchestra pit in Come, Been and Gone. I'm not being quite so bold as to suggest "Of Saint and Go-Go Boys" belongs in that canon, but I don't see why PanicLab shouldn't be capable of producing something that is before long.

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