Described as a show about what happens when a 40 year old mum finds herself approaching midlife, Degenerate promised a heady mix of vampires and menopause alongside stand up comedy and audience participation. Well, sign me up! And it was in the lovely Etcetera Theatre above the Oxford Arms pub in Camden. I repeat: a pub. Another reason to go.
Sadly this show is confused, and whilst I have no issue with merging traditional theatre forms with stand up, it does need some kind of structure. Labelled as Work In Progress, this is its third outing, having played at the Camden Fringe in August and then the Clapham Fringe in October. It’s not brand new. Possibly the WIP in the title actually refers to the nature of life itself, but whatever.
At the beginning our character Maria comes on stage and outlines what is going to happen, whilst being clear this isn’t the show proper. She regularly refers to a set of notes on a nearby table and interacts with the audience. She then tries to get out of the studio to buy some drinks for audience members but of course the door is locked and we’re stuck for the duration and the lights start to flicker. Well, we are expecting vampires aren’t we?! Some of this worked: she’s talented and engages easily with the audience. She’s also funny, with great timing. However, this section went on far too long and joke was overworked. It also created confusion, certainly for myself and my partner. Was this part of a scripted performance? Or a genuine impromptu reaction? Neither made sense. And yet the concept itself had lots of potential: vampires and menopause?! So much opportunity for blood-related comedy or incisive comment was left undeveloped.
The rest of the performance plodded through stand up categories, which Maria recounted to the audience one by one: observational comedy, anecdotal, insult, improv and so on. It was completely unnecessary and a shame. Maria is genuinely talented and is capable of taking the audience with her without the performance equivalent of subtitles.
The lighting is clever: blackouts are well timed and certainly the one at the end pre-empted a genuinely surprising reveal, which structurally brought us back to the beginning of the piece. It was a neat and clever trajectory. So why obfuscate the action with all the pretend ‘I’m making it up as I go along’ then?! Have confidence in your writing abilities woman! There was also a moment when she sang, and boy, can that woman sing. Powerful and emotional, it was a lovely, visceral surprise.
In terms of plot, what I struggled with was the idea that 40 is such a major milestone to be overcome. Technically the average age of a woman experiencing menopause is 51 (don’t ask me how I know that) but by putting a label on THE birthday to be feared you run the risk of alienating some of the audience who might feel that 40 is really quite young. Would it have been better to leave the actual number out of it and just use the vehicle of female middle age invisibility as the structure?
This has been given a two star rating because of the lack of belief or clarity in what this show is trying to achieve, but that really doesn’t reflect the quality of the performance by the actor herself. And that is truly disappointing. Decide what you want to do with this show and give it a good edit. Then showcase Maria because she’s worth it.
Written, directed and produced by: This is Not A Test Theatre
Degenerate played at Etcetera Theatre as part of thei Black Box Festival.