26 September 2008

The Undressing Room

The Undressing Room 
Heavens to Betsy productions
26 September 2008
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club 

I’ve seen Imogen Kelly’s work around the traps and always loved it. She grabs burlesque and strip by the tender bits and twists it into something fabulous, ironic and subversive. The Undressing Room is her first full-length, solo show, which somehow manages to turn burlesque and strip in something a bit self indulgent and boring.

The individual strips that Kelly performs within the show are as spectacularly brilliant as they always are, and there are some wonderful jokes - but they mean nothing in the context of the piece. When a character is built around a series of sketches, the sketches need to reflect, support or contradict that character. Instead of seeing moments of understanding, empathy and love, I was just left asking ‘why’?

The Undressing Room is screaming out for a director, a writer or at least some critical outside eye to say ‘No’. I don’t care about the abundance of technical hitches that plagued opening night – in fact, they actually helped by breaking the tension and allowing the audience to comfortably laugh AT something. I do care that this show lacks structure, character, story and premise.

The concept seems to be that we are watching the performer behind the stripper - indeed a fabulous and intriguing start. In her dressing room Kelly’s character chats to an off-stage voice. They discuss the age-old question of what to call her girl bits. She has to reject ‘muff’, as these days strippers have to shave and ‘it’ is no longer fluffy. So ‘clacker’ to ‘husband hole’ are offered, with no real conclusion reached (and the opportunity for a fringe/minge joke was ignored).

We finally find out that the off-stage voice is her ego (at one stage, I thought it was her vagina) – which she eventually kills – I’m not sure why – but her ego disappears in a Psychoesque shower scene. Nonetheless, even though she is ego free, nothing about her performances seems to change.

I couldn’t figure out if this character likes her job. Does she enjoy the power of stripping, does she resent it, is she all exhibitionist, does she find it sexual, or is it just something she does to achieve her goal of being seen naked by one million people? As an audience, it’s very difficult to support her strip performances if we’re worried that the character hates what she is doing, or doesn’t have any concept of the politics of what she is doing.

If Kelly performed as herself, I’m sure it would be much clearer – as she does understand the things that her character seems to have missed. When Kelly let the character go, there was a much better connection with the audience and these moments were much more enjoyable.

The best thing about a Fringe festival is seeing the work artists really want to make and sharing in their experiments, discoveries and risks.  Kelly is a bloody great performer with amazing material. I’m sure that The Undressing Room will tighten up as the season continues, but it needs a lot of work before it becomes the show it can (and I’m sure will) be.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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