IT’S A MOTHERF**KING PLEASURE at the VAULT Festival
“The cast are all entirely charming, pushing the audience to a gentle discomfort whilst keeping the tone silly and fun”
VAULT Festival has an offering of nearly 600 shows across three months. I’m reviewing a fair few, and whilst some were picked because the blurb piqued my interest, 600 shows is a lot to sift through. So I must admit, quite a few were picked because someone recommended them, as is the case with It’s a Motherf***ing Pleasure. But as the cast rather gleefully points out, this is the first performance of the show, so how on earth could the ES or Lyn Gardner know if it were any good, or indeed “important”?
Aarian Mehrabani, one of three cast members claims this is a perfect of example of non-disabled guilt, recommending a completely unknown show likely just because it’s created by FlawBored, a disability-led theatre company. In this instance it’s worked in their favour- the auditorium is packed. But It’s a Mother F***ing Pleasure seeks to work through some of the darker consequences of this impulse, and those who are happy to take advantage of it.
They also readily admit it’s a difficult conversation to navigate, spending the first ten minutes desperately ensuring that the audience’s access requirements are taken care of, and the last ten minutes apologising profusely to everyone they’ve no doubt offended.
And somewhere in the middle they tell a story that, whilst not technically true, has no doubt taken place in some form or other in multiple corporate offices: a PR agency has been accused of being ableist after one of their influencers has said something questionable on their channel. And, of course, rather than think about how this has happened and seek to educate themselves, they decide to monetise this opportunity and hire a brown, gay, blind influencer to become the face of Revision, a series of blind ‘experiences’ to sell to the guilt-ridden seeing public.
The cast are all entirely charming, pushing the audience to a gentle discomfort whilst keeping the tone silly and fun. The idea of ICAD- Integrated Creative Audio Description, which describes, not just what’s happening, but the vibe, is genuinely brilliant and I look forward to other shows employing it in earnest.
The plot itself starts strong, funny and relatable, and necessarily takes a sharp turn off a cliff. But it heroically saves itself with lashings of self-awareness. The reviewers in the audience are warned that should they give any less than four stars, everyone will think they’re a c*nt for criticising a disability-led theatre company. And on the way out, the audience is offered ‘I’m an ally’ badges, and printed suggestions of enthusiastic tweets, to show that they’re not ableist.
I, of course, would never be swayed by such things. Sure, I took a badge to show everyone, as Chloe Palmer tells me, that I’m not ableist anymore, and that I’m better than everyone else. But I would never give a skewed rating no matter how blind the cast is. I just happened to really like it. Funny, chaotic and wincingly relevant.
“The second act just gets sillier. And the sillier it gets the more we enjoy it.”
There’s a joke, in the form of a flowchart, currently doing the rounds of social media about how to work out if it’s Christmas. Is it November? Yes? Then it’s not Christmas. The folks down at the Watermill Theatre have obviously missed this as they seem fully intent on delivering a sleigh-load of festive cheer into the heart of the Newbury woodlands. For them, the season has started. It’s time to forget the dark nights, and the darker state of the nation, and embrace the innocent joy that has been locked away for too long.
Annie Siddons’ “Rapunzel” has something for all the family. But Disney it ain’t. It is not quite Grimm either as it strays somewhat from the original German fairy tale. But still managing to keep the central plotlines fairly intact. We are in the rolling hills of Tuscany – not really known for its dense woodland and trumpet-playing pigs, but you have to suspend disbelief to have any chance at all of keeping up with the story. A story told with heart-warming exuberance by the half dozen actor musicians.
Mother Gothel (Miiya Alexandra) is not so much the wicked witch, but an overprotective mother with good intentions. When she becomes aware that Rapunzel (Tilly-Mae Millbrook) is on the verge of pubescence, her innate, maternal fears kick in. Of course: lock her up to protect her. “Because I love you” she reasons to her bamboozled daughter, and Rapunzel meekly takes it.
Meanwhile – on the other side of the forest the Duchess (Miiya Alexandra again) is practically kicking her two sons (Roddy Lynch’s Paulo and Loris Scarpa’s Patrizio) out of the door. Time to seek adventure. Some sort of sexual stereotyping is going on here, but it’s all so tongue in cheek you grin and bear it. Actually, you grin like the Cheshire Cat. By this time, it’s all wonderfully absurd. You almost expect Graham Chapman to burst in with his Monty Python catchphrase; “Stop that, it’s silly”.
Prince Patrizio is the sensitive, musical, mandolin-strumming one who, having misplaced his brother, hears Rapunzel singing in her tower, discovers a way to climb up… you know how it pans out. He scares her, soothes her, kisses her and, ‘Hey Presto’, this is love. Knowing asides swoop over the kids’ heads to be lapped up by the adults’ more knowledgeable (debatable) and experienced (doubtful) minds.
The script dates back to 2006, when Kneehigh put their inimitable stamp on it. This company respect and replicate the spirit. A few topical references have been added – political, of course – relating to taxes, inflation, chancellors, recession and so forth. “Thank God we’re in a fairy tale and not real life”. The fourth wall, already crumbling now gets pulverised, mainly thanks to the wonderfully hilarious Emma Barclay with her wry delivery and comic flair. The second act just gets sillier. And the sillier it gets the more we enjoy it.
Isobel Nicolson’s set adds to the magic of the evening, cleverly creating the illusion of height on the relatively small stage. The fine ensemble cast weave themselves up, down, above and beneath the rickety spiral staircase. Greenery sprouts and retreats, musical instruments appear and disappear. There’s a fair bit for the performers to think about, and occasionally it gets messy, but it’s a delightful messiness that we are glad to be tangled in.
Like the princes in the forest, you may occasionally lose your way among the anarchic mayhem that is “Rapunzel”. Even the Brothers Grimm had two alternative endings to the tale. This show twists it in another direction still. It is an enchanting show. Oh, and did I say it was silly?