Camden People’s Theatre
Reviewed – 5th December 2019
“A bit mad, a bit radical, wholly enjoyable, Sh!t Actually is a welcome antidote to all of the sugary holiday fluff”
In 2003, Britain’s smash holiday hit Love Actually rocketed onto the list of the world’s favourite Christmas films, landing among big hitters such as The Muppet Christmas Carol, Home Alone, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As the most recent of these classic films, it’s surprising to watch how poorly the starry, treacle-sweet Love Actually has aged. In the last few years, the film has been called out repeatedly for the blatant sexism that defines almost every storyline: from Colin Firth’s character falling in love with his Portuguese maid who can’t talk to him, to Hugh Grant’s “chubby” but nevertheless sexy secretary, whose weight is a running gag. In the post-MeToo era, Love Actually has become problematic, if not downright cringe, viewing.
Sh!t Theatre, who’ve had recent success at Edinburgh and the Soho Theatre with their 2019 show Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum with Expats, are back this holiday season to roast the nation’s well-loved Christmas classic. If you’ve been to a Sh!t Theatre show before, you’ll know the pair of performance artists, Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole, combine a variety of theatrical elements in their distinct comedy style, including video, singing, dancing, silly costumes, and alcohol for the audience.
Biscuit and Mothersole are very funny in this scorching satire. In just fifty-five minutes, they recap the film, highlighting the creepy, the bad, and the worse in Love Actually’s love stories. How romantic is it, actually, when we discover the man who’s always rude to Keira Knightley’s character is secretly obsessed with her, and films her without her knowledge? Is it really romantic to chase a girl you’ve never spoken to through the airport? Although many of the points in the show, and even a fair few of the jokes, aren’t original – much of the content seems to draw quite heavily from a 2013 Jezebel article written by Lindy West – the framing of it as performance art is uniquely entertaining, and Biscuit and Mothersole add their own attacks.
From the number of ‘true love’ stories involving two people who’ve never talked to each other, to the relentless roll-neck jumpers, no element of Love Actually is left unscathed. Biscuit and Mothersole make excellent use of video, playing clips from the film with alternate subtitles, alternate music, and interspersed with external clips: Alan Rickman as Snape makes a particularly hilarious appearance. One warning, however: there are several clips of graphic porn, which may make Sh!t Actually one of the least family-friendly Christmas shows in London this year.
There’s also brief nudity during Biscuit and Mothersole’s costume changes. The nudity, as well as the nude bodysuits the two wear, is an apt feminist statement. In opposition to Love Actually, which objectifies, fetishises, and ridicules its female bodies, Biscuit and Mothersole make a visual argument for body positivity. In the background, scenes from the film play, while in the foreground we see real women’s bodies, displayed deliberately and autonomously in dissent. Biscuit and Mothersole rebel against the toxic ideology on the screen using their bodies and voices – loud singing, dancing, and energetic physical comedy – to protest the misogynist fantasy of quiet, highly-sexualised women Love Actually exemplifies.
A bit mad, a bit radical, wholly enjoyable, Sh!t Actually is a welcome antidote to all of the sugary holiday fluff, and the insidious sexism seeping through ‘heart-warming’ Christmas films. There should be no room in 2019 for a film that argues love means winning sexy women, with whom you’ve never had a real conversation, by grand ‘romantic’ (predatory) gestures. Isn’t it time to acknowledge that Love Actually is shit, actually?
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Jen Smethurst
Camden People’s Theatre until 21st December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: