Prague Fringe 2019
#Hypocrisy eases audiences into the topic of white privilege through the voice of a charismatic young Scottish woman. Stirling layers stories of a gap year spent busking across Europe into a critique of the media’s role in demonizing Muslims, refugees, and asylum seekers. Spoken-word poetry, a few simple props, and the reverberating strum of a guitar propel the narrative realizations of identity and difference from a Millennial perspective.
One could imagine Imogen Stirling, with a sly smile and a messy bun piled on top of her head, giving this poetic monologue in response to a relative asking “So, how was your year abroad?” The answer floats from backpacking memories to social and political rants with the enthusiasm of a young traveler who can’t wait to tell you what they’ve learned about the world. The majority of the forty-five minute performance is delivered so conversationally that the audience might not even notice that much of it rhymes until an obvious couplet catches their attention. Stirling and Prague-based guitarist Heyme Langbroek navigate the changes in tempo and emotion with impressive ease, considering they had less than one week of rehearsals to coordinate the constant musical beat behind Stirling’s words.
One reason this show reminded me of a response to an older and almost certainly white relative is that it treads lightly around its most controversial moments. Choosing to tackle the topic of race from a white woman’s perspective, Stirling uses humor and a storyteller’s touch to relax the audience. She pokes fun at her past exploitations of privilege – being allowed to board a plane after losing her passport, using tears to get a hotel room that she couldn’t afford – while observing her hypocrisy in hindsight. Her self-deprecation, and subsequent enlightenment, seems to encourage the (also largely white and significantly British) Fringe audience to acknowledge these actions as a shared experience; that we’re all in this together.
Stirling’s later stories dig into loose personal connections to recent terrorist attacks and broader observations on media coverage and British attitudes towards Muslims. Whenever the discussion gets a little too uncomfortable, Stirling lets the audience off the hook with a nervous giggle and a comedic face, eyes wide and her tongue pressed to her upper teeth, signaling the acceptance of laughter to break the tension. She follows rants about fear-based prejudice or choosing online apathy over activism with reassurances that she, too, has been guilty of the behaviours she now passionately condemns.
This discomfort with discomfort is both a possible strength and potential limitation of having a largely white discussion of race. Using the privilege and relatability of Stirling’s identity may open a few ears to her ideas, but the audience isn’t asked to sit with those feelings for long before returning to the comfort of being entertained. The show’s final verses could potentially benefit from an approach that doesn’t wrap the complex issues of racism and colonialism into a singular source to be defeated with a tidy bow of hope and humanity. That said, if a kind, coddling discussion of white privilege helps to break the silence on the still incredibly touchy subject, this (also white) reviewer applauds and encourages any attempts to have these messy conversations.