Reviewed – 19th August 2019
“Punchy and filled with promise, it’s a well-crafted hour of storytelling”
How judgemental are we of ourselves and others? Does your sex life define you? How easy is it to love your own body? ‘Puttana’, a one-man-show with a short run at this year’s Camden Fringe, tackles these questions head on. Italian for bitch, whore, or slut, “puttana” is a wonderfully expressive word. As Oskar Hartman explores though, it’s a slander, a label that attacks beneath the surface and can have lasting implications.
Hartman begins his performance lying on a bare, blow-up mattress, woken up by the sound of his phone. Messages from Grindr. His usual hook-up conversations are drilled, and lead on a larger meditation of his own life and sexual experiences. This is, as advertised, a bare-knuckle confessional monologue. Hartman’s raunchy and, at times, harrowing sexual history uncovers the highs and lows of gay male hook-up culture. The piece swings between self-indulgence and comedic insight, with the story never quite taking off, or leading anywhere profound.
This boldly entertaining monologue packs a punch, but Oskar’s biggest challenge is winning over his audience. Some more time getting to know us, might make us want to get to know him. Considerably well-travelled, Hartman takes us to a sex club in Berlin, Starbucks in New York, a sexual health clinic in Helsinki and an exclusive club in Milan. His all-too-brief transformation in Luca the Doorman provides a winning moment of comedy, as he selects which members of the audience are allowed into his club: “Tu, si. Tu, no.” Hartman embodies different characters nicely – I only wish we’d seen more.
Director and dramaturg Jonna Wikström could certainly trim some of the fat from this production. Although Oskar is embroiled in club culture, the benefits of seeing one man raving on stage for more than a few seconds are questionable. That said, the combination of flashing lights and well-structured storytelling makes the Berlin sex club scene a highlight of the show. Hartman’s nervy performance gets more and more relaxed as the show goes on. He asks audience members lots of questions – does he want them to answer?
For those with a taste for confessional monologues, this is a must-see at the Camden Fringe. The piece at once criticises the superficiality of hook-up culture, whilst of course seeming to advocate it. On the one hand, its message is that we ought to stop judging people for their sexual exploits. On the other, it presents gay characters defined only by what they do in (or not, as the case may be) the bedroom. However, hopefully Hartman and friends will find other occasions to bring this piece back beyond its two-day run. Punchy and filled with promise, it’s a well-crafted hour of storytelling. I only wish I cared about Oskar more to make his final realisation as impactful as it wants to be.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Etcetera Theatre until 20th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Previously reviewed at this venue: