This Really Is Too Much

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Laura Wilsmore

at 19:32 on 17th Aug 2017

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‘This Really is Too Much’ is really quite hard to describe. Unlike the characters in the performance, it refuses to fit into a single tick box of criteria. All four performers begin on stage, locking your gaze as you enter, which is both tantalisingly imposing and amusing. What follows is a comical, anarchic review of femininity in the modern world. Delicately balancing skilfully crafted verse with impeccably executed physical theatre, the show is entirely arresting. From CEOs to beauty queens, each of the modes of thought that the talented cast guide you through allow the audience to consider ‘just how far we’ve come’.

The ability of this cast to work as an ensemble was truly faultless. Holding deafening pauses, speaking poetical verse in perfect unison and thrusting themselves into farcical dance routines involving salad and cleaning products were all undertook with ease. The constant juxtaposition between moments of deep sincerity with surreal madness outlined their exploration into the female persona. This control is crucial to the success of the show; immaculate precision and absurd mess placed exactly where they were needed. Slick changes in light and sound complimented their performance as forces seemingly outside of their control took over. Repeatedly, one samba track would evoke an instant transformation of the performers as they undressed down to their underwear to embody exaggerated stereotypes of women. The audience laughed with them at their larger-than-life characters, but then quickly reflected on the elements of these embodiments of women that are inevitably imposed on many of us today.

Amongst the powerful movements, there are many moments in which the darkly comical dance effortlessly combined with verse. Kate Cox delivered a powerful motivational speech concerning self-belief and confidence, but it was cleverly undermined by the response of the ensemble. Physically and verbally manipulating her, they murmured in false disagreement and lifted her off the floor as the words ‘we must take responsibility for ourselves’ were announced by Cox. The audience ironically become distracted from her words and focused on her physicality - the way many women in power are treated. The comment that she was ‘dressed appropriately for the occasion’ could not help but draw to mind many recent headlines concerning Theresa May’s various wardrobe choices.

Rachel’s frequent embodiment of a beauty pageant contestant was particularly outstanding. Shifting between discussing the ‘destruction of our welfare state’ and her ‘tiara’, she consistently reflects the intensifying struggle to wish to be accepted in society as she is often isolated by the fellow performers. Her descent into intense exasperation results in her stepping into the audience, commanding how we should respond to the events onstage. She compelled you to watch her, literally.

Despite that every moment was carefully considered and intended as a thought-provoking medium for the audience, I personally felt that the overall show need not be as long to have the same impact. There is a fine line between intentionally creating uncomfortable silences for an audience and losing their attention.

‘This Really is Too Much’ offers a prismatic performance that explores all the maddening realities of womanhood. It is the fierce and farcical feminist theatre of today that is needed to invite conversations about whether we really have ‘never had it so good’.

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Darcy Rollins

at 12:06 on 18th Aug 2017

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This Really Is Too Much’ is one of the strangest things I have ever seen on stage. It is also one of the most true. All the elements of this show line up perfectly to create a sharp satire of society’s treatment of women sparkling with wit, insight, energy and absurdity. Rachel Fullegar, Rebecca Holberg, Sofia Edstrand and Kate Cox ( the Gracefool Collective) begin by staring at the audience in silence before moving and speaking in eerie synchronicity.”You’ve never had it so good,” they say, before the talented four begin to strip this mantra down till it’s meaningless by taking prescribed female behaviour to the extreme.

In this production, everything is contorted to show the contradictory, impossible demands placed upon women by society. Sentences twist from serious to light, from emotional to political; “We must give love to all the universe, especially our children, unless you don’t want them that’s totally fine!” Bodies twist as the rest of the group carries one away while she talks of women needing to support one another. This twisting becomes more and more manic as rapid scene changes aid the escalation of chaos.

The writing is sharp and intelligent but never lofty. “I can feel myself getting defensive because your voice sounded angry and was getting very loud!” says Fullegar. This moment illustrates the contortions of female behaviour; justification being provided for the natural, but ‘unfeminine’, response of standing up when attacked. “Look at how sincere I am, tight smile” speaks the Collective; a clear parody of how everything possible in a woman’s arsenal must be used to assert authority, down to using exactly the right kind of smile.

The excellent writing is accompanied by excellent delivery by the Collective with each woman equally distinctly memorable. Fullegar is a political beauty queen who teeters on heels and teeters on the uncertainty of having to follow her assertions with the requisite, un-intimidating femininity: “I want a socialist economy… and to watch Downton Abbey!” Holberg nervously tries to make herself acceptable for a job interview, contorting more and more to do so. Edstrand is a terrifying, elegant Stepford wife-type who performs ballet while reciting a list of instructions for womanly goodness: “Be lovely, hold a baby, plant a tree…” Cox sternly recounts the “rules” with an authoritative charisma and is key in creating the sense of mild dystopia that infuses the performance.

One of the most absurd moments of this absurd play is when cheery Steely Dan plays and all four run to their positions, strip to their underwear and brandish cleaning products, lettuce, suncream and water, while grinning manically and posing unnaturally. As Fullegar brandishes lettuce, and exclaims “Salad!”, this is clearly commenting on the ridiculous excitement women are encouraged to have for domesticity.

‘This Really is Too Much’ is very clever. It engaged me, setting my mind, and pen, racing as bit after bit hit home. That it managed to do so with so much humour, is a testament to the brains of the creators. Astute observations combined with absurdity in a crystal clear message that, yes, the demands of today for women “really is too much”. Very, very sadly it went on too long and its insight was weakened by too much repetition. I hope the creators of this wonderful show distill its absurd, hilarious essence in future as “This Really is Too Much” deserves the highest praise.

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