Brighton Festival 2011
A confessional-style piece of Spanish theatre using multi-media excerpts and apparent autobiographical stories to explore fascism in the family, the contemporary art world and the gay community, and that good old theme of sex and death
Sexual response knows no morality or, worse, can sometimes run counter to our own. This was the message that emerged most strongly from this confessional style piece, for which the seven audience members joined Quim Pujol around the table of a Hanover kitchen.
A Spanish performer with an intriguingly placid face and gentle talent for putting people at their ease, Pujol specializes in performing theatre in people’s houses. It instantly narrows the gap, he explained, during one of the chats we were encouraged to have before and after the performance – the after bit further facilitated by the sharing of several bottles of Rioja.
And the house setting made good sense for this particular piece, in which family life and Spain’s fascist past, homosexuality and hate crime, pure sensation and self-promoting sensationalism are dangerously entwined. In some small way the sense of risk inherent in joining a group of strangers for a piece of intimate theatre at a private address (the fact one of our number was called Dennis did rather add to the impression of a swinger’s party) also mirrored the section in which Pujol described losing his virginity at an unknown address to two men he had contacted through a magazine. Theatre is also playing a risqué game when it steps off neutral ground.
The losing of his virginity is described because it felt, he says, like a rebellion against his mother and grandmother and their fascist sympathies. But Spain’s gay underground has the capacity to make him feel just as uncomfortable as his family’s homophobic jokes. An early foray into a gay club reveals a world dominated by butch men in army uniforms. Later, he shocks himself by masturbating to gay porn director Bruce LaBruce’s Skin Flick, about a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads and their daily quest for gang banging and violence.
Printed photocopies of artworks, a sheet of downloaded information about Saatchi’s infamous ‘90s Sensation exhibition (the show’s title, which translates as ‘Tiger Shark’, takes its name from Damien Hirst’s fishy formaldehyde exhibit) and a section of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ on the subject of propaganda were all integrated into the piece, with Pujol at times reading from a laptop in front of him and ringing a table bell to mark the boundaries between stories or thoughts. But we weren’t always given quite enough information to tease out the links for ourselves.
He began, for instance, by asking us to gaze at an orchid while a piece of classical music, remembering the time his mother had greeted him at the door with the excited news that she had discovered the perfect music for watching orchids. This apparently autobiographical fragment had a stand-alone poetry. But you had to know that the music was Schubert’s Leda and the Swan (or be inquisitive enough to ask at the end) to gather that a theme of eroticism and violence, and the ‘little death’ of the orgasm, was being established.
The intimate setting, confessional mode and likeability of Bujol himself gave Tiberon Tigre the impression of being a very generous piece of theatre. And yet it drew a little too much of its power from the fail-proof provocations of conceptual art, pornography and Hitler while relying on the audience’s inclination to build up the most faintly traced of connections. My abiding impression was that Bujol himself, as the theatre-maker, might have brought just a little more to the table.