Brighton Fringe 2013
Failure (And Other Opportunities for Non-Linear Success)
Venue: Nightingale Theatre
Falling down and picking yourself up again is the subject of Mary Pearson’s delightful and uncomfortable Failure (and Other Opportunities For Non-Linear Success). How do we cope when our fantasies fail us? How do we find dignity in the face of humiliating defeat and crushing disappointment…particularly the romantic kind?disappointment?
On our way into the show, writer, director and performer Mary Pearson invites us to take a handful of dried beans, ‘each bean represents a desire’ she says. She has a warmth and an unguarded quality that is instantly appealing. We are in safe hands.
What follows is a kind of one woman performance art – confessional – manifesto – carefully constructed train wreck that is a strange mix of autobiographical detail, feminist theory, advertising imagery, slap-stick and charmingly lo-fi home-made music. It is funny and earnest, but also there is an air of desperation which creates a discomfort in us, we want to laugh, but are not quite sure it is ok to. In one sequence, Mary has all the men in the audience stand around her in a circle as she writhes around on the floor in a bikini. The ‘dance’ cuts some of the shapes of pornography, though is strangely devoid of eroticism and culminates in her standing in poses while she is being squirted with water by the men in the circle. Meanwhile the voice over articulates what might well be in our minds ‘who does she think she is?’, ‘does she think this is sexy?’, ‘boring!’ etc. It is uncomfortable stuff. Not quite funny. Not quite sexy, but quirky, clever and somehow successful.
I thought the piece could benefit from a director, especially someone who could help guide some of her movement ideas and transitions. I noticed that althought Pearson credits herself as director, at the Camden People’s Theatre run, Hannah Silva and Jamie wood are credited as co-directors and Jules Beckman as movement coach. I felt that a lot of ‘Failure’, though the editing on the text was succuinct and satisfying, more directorial imput on the physical score and the rythmns and contrasts of the whole could have really given it impact. I’m not sure to what extent Pearson placed her work in the hands of her directors, but from my experience I’ve found it is dangerous to work director-less as a theatre maker. Especially as a soloist. You become a victim of your own control.
Failure looks at what we find sexy and how we cope with sexual rejection. Particularly, the pressure women feel to objectify their bodies for sexual approval and the pain of the body being treated as object. It is difficult territory to cut new turf in, as female feminist performance artists have been traversing this subject well before Mariana Abramovich presented her naked breasts to viewers and invited them to use tools of pleasure or pain on her in Rhythm 01. The subject is nothing new and Mary’s approach is not particularly original or ground breaking. I found myself asking whether we really need another piece of performance that explores this stuff but what pulled it through for me ultimately, was Mary herself. Her warmth, her genuineness, her willingness to put herself on the edge between success and failure with us, for us. I look forward very much to what Pearson does next as her work unfolds into more rich and varied subject matter.