Friday, 15 February 2013

The Lady's Not For Walking Like an Egyptian - review

Ovalhouse, London

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ovalhouse, and to celebrate the occasion the theatre has commissioned five counter culture pieces, each covering one of its five decades of history. This does not mean that The Lady’s Not For Walking Like an Egyptian is a session of 1980’s nostalgia, declares the producing duo Rachel Mars and nat tarrab, known as Mars.tarrab – except, perhaps, for the gleeful tribute to the rah-rah skirt paid in the first few minutes of the play. Instead, the pair’s devised work employs the decade to highlight today’s prevalent themes of the female voice and power. The result fittingly honours the counter culture ethos of the Ovalhouse.

In their effort to combine the 80s, the female voice, and power, Mars.tarrab formulate their piece as Margaret Thatcher’s chronological, but sometimes chaotic, journey as Prime Minister. Thatcher was undoubtedly one of the most powerful women in Britain during that decade, and for those who have seen the mainstream film concoction The Iron Lady, she may even be perceived as the feminist icon. In this production however, the actors challenge this view ostensibly and sometimes brutally. Geared with space hoppers and scuba masks, they portray Thatcher’s actions during the Falkland’s War by riotously squashing a toilet roll boat. Mars.tarrab also overlap various Thatcher speeches with spoken lyrics from women’s top ten hits from the 80s, which seem to have men and materialism as running themes. Through such silly creative means, Mars and tarrab forcefully undermine and trivialise Thatcher’s status as a powerful woman, and prove that she didn’t really care about equality. The endearingly extroverted performances asks us to re-examine our perception of women and power- if mainstream contemporary society deems Thatcher, a woman described as ‘the best man in parliament’, as the ultimate feminist, then what does this say about our grasp of the concept of the influential woman?

Mars.tarrab does not merely encourage us to question the themes of their piece; they also ask us to scrutinize our actions in relation to them. The work’s unruly nature reaches its climax as the audience is requested to betray the number one rule of theatre by turning on their mobile phones, so as is to google Thatcher’s majority in the 1979 elections. Mars and tarrab indicate that our culture is not shaped by experience, but by our ownership of a smartphone. And, when the spectators are asked to think of a cause close to their hearts, and more and more of the distributed handmade badges come to mention “no causes”, we realise the need to stop being swept along by the masses, and to actively engage with important issues, such as equality. 

This two-weeks-in-the-making show encompasses all the values of fringe theatre (the actors operate their own tech), and is clearly all about the heart of the message. Unfortunately, more than a few stumbles over words, and a general sense of work in progress, somewhat let down the extremely likeable and passionate Mars.tarrab. Slickness in performance would really reinforce, and fully immerse us in, the valid points they’re making.

The Lady’s Not For Walking like an Egyptian is by no means a groundbreaking experiment, but as the women dance wholeheartedly in head-to-toe garish and neon attire, it most definitely celebrates the lifeblood of the Ovalhouse. Its biggest achievement is not only in revisiting the 1980s, but also in underlining the issues of this decade and their prevalence today, thus consolidating the theatre’s belief in the relevance of counter culture work.

This production runs until 16th February 2013.
@Ovalhouse @Marstarrab

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