Julia Croft is a talented performer. Her physical presence is commanding and she presents a no-holds barred 60 minute analysis of female sexuality that is funny, provocative and entertaining.
Better still it’s also smart. If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution I’m Not Coming is an unadulterated and unyielding exposé of how women and our bodies are experienced through a variety of media that gaze, consume and systematically practice forms of violence against the female body.
The work begins with the familiar 20th Century fox theme music and you might as well grab your popcorn and drink because the next hour is a kaleidoscope of film, audio and lyrical mashups. The pacing is for the most part fairly good and we segue from familiar filmic visuals to the latest pop songs, all the while punctuated with a slow and deliberate revealing of Croft’s body in various little theatrical vignettes.
Decked out in a flamboyant ostrich feather-trimmed hat and multiple layered costumes, Croft is like a magician with a bag of tricks. Our solo performer brings out a veritable array of props that have the audience in bouts of delight and wonder as to how she remembers where everything is hidden beneath layers of tulle, silk, taffeta and who knows what else. Nevertheless she has everything you would expect from a ballerina in Swan Lake to Kate Winslet’s signature jewellery all ready for her nudie pin up to burgers and coke, and everything in between.
The commentary is pervasive throughout: the missing shoe is found in the audience; the juxtaposition of Taylor’s Swift’s music with the Ying Yang Twin’s lyrics to ‘Whisper’ is one of the most powerful moments in the work; the flagrant use and abuse of women’s bodies by commercial giants such as Coke and also white women doing their best at twerking to rap.
In some ways the show could be a dissection that film critic Laura Mulvey would heartily endorse – it combines visual pleasure and a narrative of self, and does so confidently and unapologetically. But is it enough?
There are some moments that are brilliant, others that just drag on a tad too long and at some point it does feel like a massive cultural appropriation – obviously making the point that women’s bodies have been appropriated for generations and in multiple contexts … but then what? The show exemplifies the flaws of institutionalised culture in all their tawdry glamour but pointing out the flaws doesn’t make them disappear.
In addition, it’s a commentary on a particular type of feminism. What did white feminism ever do for black women? Or Asian women? Or Indigenous women? Is there room in this work for those voices or are we expected to be sated with an assault of dominant images because they are recognisable? For some individuals, yes, this will be true, but not for all, and certainly not while the discourse is still dominated by a mise-en-scene narrative that is largely reflective of a particular demographic, language and physicality.
Interestingly, the set is largely constructed around mirrors and these are not used anywhere as much as they could be to flatter, question, reflect, interrogate the various selves that women perform and equally the various lenses through which we are perceived. There is some good work with webcams and multiple wonderful puns and plays on close-ups (both verbal and visual) and a plethora of smart engaging innuendo – but it just doesn’t have the ballast to go further.
Similarly, the show doesn’t quite rise to its lofty ambition of giving voice to a ‘call to arms’. Anarchy? Hmm … Again in its current incarnation it just doesn’t quite achieve the ambitious goals it sets itself.
Virginia Frankovich is a solid director and the work does everything it should: makes good use of the space, has effective lighting and Croft herself is undeniably a chiselled actor. But the work has to do more to de-institutionalise itself first and foremost before it can truly unsettle its audiences.
It is a funny, ambitious and provocative work but it’s still a fringe show that needs to be taken up a substantial few notches to deliver the punches it promises.