12 May 2008

Cellblock Booty

Cellblock Booty
Sisters Grimm

1 May 2008
Harmsworth St Collingwood

The breadth of the offence in Sisters Grimm’s Cellblock Booty is something to behold. Sexism, racism, homophobia and blasphemy are rampant in a work that entertains though sheer exploitation.

Declan Greene and Ash Flanders are the Sisters Grimm. They create queer theatre at its most anarchistic. Flanders has even introduced the term 'ball acting' to my theatrical vernacular.

Cellblock Booty is a homage to the 70s sexploitation prison flicks. Thrushmore womens prison is a world of jiggling breasts, implied (and blatant) homosexuality, innuendo and manipulation though stress and drugs by a power crazed ruler. Luckily, we have developed as a society and now demand quality non-exploitative entertainment like Wife Swap and the re-vamped world of Big Brother 08. Surely, a fisting from Thrushmore’s Matron can’t be more painful than a diary room chat with BB.

There should be something in this show that offends you. It’s meant to. It’s not just outrageously bad acting, unbelievable characters, unwarranted nudity, inconsistent plot and a pair of boots that make shoe lovers weep. Cellblock Booty pushes us to our limits of taste and tolerance.

Connie (Flanders) calls her African American inmate every racial slur she can muster. Chink, kike, packy, gook and spick roll off her tongue with abandon. Of course, none actually refer to the ethnic stereotype she is trying to offend. As a representation of ignorance and ridiculous racism, there is no finer than Connie. I should also mention that the inmate being offended is sensitively played by a young woman in an afro wig and a full body “blacking up” that makes the Black and White Minstrel Show look racially positive.

There is substance supporting the tacky high camp frolic. (And I’m not talking about the collection of substances in Connie’s arse.) The repeated image of God as a dragon is a remarkably detailed and astute observation about religion. They play with, break and satirise the conventions of drag by having men and women playing women. The men play lesbians, so this queer show has men regularly groping women.

The Sisters deftly balance the line between satire and offence. Then leap over it as far as they can. The jiggling breasts torture scene had me scribbling notes about women who still let themselves be directed like that. Then Greene’s direction lowered the lights at the perfect moment and took the scene to such an extreme that I was wiping away tears of laughter within seconds.

For the final irony, you have to see Cellblock Booty in the underground car park of the high-rise council flats in Collingwood. The echo effect of the venue saves the company a fortune on sound, the authentic cement interior is perfect for Thrushmore and the cold reminds the audience that it’s OK to be uncomfortable. However, they then went and created a totally welcoming bar space out of re-cycle crates and other found objects from the flats.

I’m not sure if the Sisters Grimm realise just how good they are. Don’t get me wrong – this is by no means slick, brilliantly written, soul-touching theatre; it’s cheap, chaotic and crappy. They do everything wrong and that’s what makes it so right. So, give BB a miss one night and head to the flats. Just remember to bring your muff.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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