Reviewed – 26th November 2018
“Stirling’s script though is highly nuanced, her phrasing delicate yet powerful”
When entering the performance space of Theatre503 for Imogen Stirling and Ross Somerville’s spoken word meets folk score piece #Hypocrisy, we’re met with the apparatus of an unplugged concert: a small acoustic amp and guitar, two hard cases, a black wineglass, and a Macbook all fall among other miscellaneous items. Two placards stand out however, one reading ‘Wonderful Exile’, and another ‘Not Entirely True’. These serve as both physical and literal signposts for Stirling’s narrative; her persona’s fifty minute soliloquy begins by eulogistically remembering a European busking tour, and then, punctuated by flashes of introspection concerning white privilege, difference, and othering, returns to Glasgow before moving into a more meandering interrogation of justice, compassion, terror, and othering.
It becomes obvious from the outset that the piece is at risk of becoming a parody of itself if we associate Stirling too closely with her presented character. With a white cast playing to a predominantly white audience, the danger that the piece could stray into self-congratulatory virtue signalling is a real one, regardless of whether the piece is autobiographically influenced. Stirling’s script though is highly nuanced, her phrasing delicate yet powerful. She speaks of the ‘bandwagon of subjective compassion’ with regards to Western responses to terror attacks, and ends with the recommendation that we ‘reject the fallacy and retain perspective’.
On the adjacent acoustic guitar, Somerville’s mixture of folky finger picking and increasing intense strumming constantly bubbles below the poetry, with major sevenths adding a calming presence and seemingly dictating Stirling’s oral speed. Having him hold up placards and exchange doubtful frowns with Stirling though feels like a slightly confused directive — once this choice is taken for Somerville to be this active alongside the narration, then why not go further? As it stands, he feels a little caught between roles. Stirling’s script is much more powerful when confronting the audience rather than facing Somerville and using him as a partial reference point.
The script is strongest in its more philosophical ruminations rather than the confessional opening. Although recounting experiences throughout Europe is a necessary precursor to Stirling’s more revelatory and introspective latter sections, it does at times feel laboured, as if recognising the ignorance displayed while abroad could’ve been tackled without having to flesh out individual scenarios. When we move into sections discussing who has the privilege to call themselves different rather than other, we quickly locate Stirling’s strength as both a writer and performer. Her voice suits the rise and fall of the words, and she maintains a humour and musicality which gives bounce to what is a cutting social commentary: ‘Different loves to be loved’, she concludes.
#Hypocrisy does provoke the thoughts its supposed to, even if the route towards them could be a little clearer. The focus on social media is smart and relevant, and Somerville’s score is excellent in its own right. Polishing the opening sections would allow for further contemplation later on; one senses that if Stirling had the opportunity to delve further into post-colonial discourses — to discuss why the West has the attitudes it does — then the obvious incision of her writing would yield even more impactful results
Reviewed by Ravi Ghosh
Photography by Eleonora Collini
Previously reviewed at this venue: