Pros: Brave performance from a fragile performer, witty and engaging.
Cons: At times it feels too much like an art installation rather than a theatre performance.
Imagine being a nervous female artist who is not comfortable performing in front of anyone on her own. Imagine now deciding to exorcise your awkward demons while sharing your life story, hopes and fears, live on stage in front of an audience… on your own. Brave? Crazy? This is what visual artist Dot Howard presents us with in How To Make An Entrance Of Yourself, and it is certainly challenging for both audience and performer.
Showing as part of the FIRST 2014 Festival of solo performances at the Tristan Bates Theatre, Dot’s cathartic trawl through her life gets off to an intentionally shaky start. An unmanned roller skate hesitantly rolls across the stage announcing her arrival on to a small set she calls a ‘black box experience’. The stage is sparsely lit and dressed with screens, a clothes rail full of red dresses and colourful signs including a cryptic ‘Tonight Matthew, I Am Going To Be…’. Colour is important to Dot, as it would be to all artists, and red in particular. Dot sees anxiety as red and therefore red is everywhere.
This isn’t strictly a solo performance, as throughout there is an unnamed assistant who multi-tasks at Dot’s behest. She partly gives a sign-language interpretation of Dot’s narration – playfully called a sign-a-long – while working the laptop for visuals, handing out charcoal and paper, and managing the audience participation. Oh yes and climbing into a bag, racing Dot to see who can get in and zip themselves up first.
It clearly takes some doing to get Dot to perform. However, it is with the narration throughout that she seems more assured and confident. Timed pauses for punchlines and neat one-liners pepper a meditation on her fear of being seen and her life experience so far. Dot is keen for this to be a two-way experience. She asks us to close our eyes and imagine we’re at school, ready for the next scene; she suggests we stand up if we can’t see her rolling around on the floor, and she invites us to ‘draw the artist as performer’ – a particularly challenging task for some of us who only went to art classes to meet girls. Fortunately, on this occasion, the audience responded and immersed itself into her world. However, at times the show feels more like an Art School graduate project rather than a theatre experience for paying customers, a piece featuring a paper bag on the performer’s head to the soundtrack of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away sung in German being a notable example.
In this show everything is a metaphor. Perhaps Dot lives her life that way, seeing all life experience as allegory. This provides her with plenty of content and in an intimate setting, the show is entertaining.
The headline notes for the show announce an absurd account of a career in fear of audiences. There is certainly an absurdist element to Dot’s work, as most of the characters in absurdist drama tend to be lost and floating in an incomprehensible universe. There is a nice bookend with her uncertain entry onto the stage and her uncertain entry into the world. All in all, this was a brave performance with some nice elements, although it may not be to everyone’s taste.
Created and performed by: Dot Howard
Box Office: 020 7240 6283
Booking Link: http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/
Booking Until: FIRST 2014 Festival runs until 19th April 2014.