REVIEW: Schlock! @ Live Theatre, Newcastle (21.03.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Poet and theatre-maker Hannah Silva commands the stage for the sublime Schlock!, a potent slice of feminist satire that raises powerful questions about the female body, abuse, and the disturbingly parallel natures of cancer and pregnancy. In the process, Fifty Shades of Grey gets ripped to pieces in many more ways than one too.

Ostensibly the story of Kathy, a woman dying of cancer, this new narrative is built by smashing together the life and works of subversive cut-and-paste schlock novelist Kathy Acker – who herself died of breast cancer – with the most prominent work of schlock permeating the cultural zeitgeist today, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.

This evocative, slyly humorous work contrasts the invasion of childbearing with that of bearing a malignant tumour, and both of these painful, symbiotic relationships with the wholesaling of pain and subjugation delivered to the mass market through Fifty Shades’ abusive language. The seemingly bland prose of the book is deformed and recontextualised to raise questions about the appropriation of the female body, with readings hacked through provocative substitutions of certain words – swapping out ‘submissive’ for ‘mother’ and ‘dominant’ for ‘child’ – to further the narrative as well as lay bare the insidious abuse of the non-consenting, unaware reader.

The seemingly bland prose of the book is deformed and recontextualised to raise questions about the appropriation of the female body

Rendered through spoken word, vocal loops, articulation techniques, off-kilter screened subtitles, and sections performed entirely in British Sign Language, Schlock! is a captivating and disconcerting experience played out on a stark stage decorated only with a pear, a candle, and a stack of paperback pages lit with fairy lights, ripped from the works of Kathy Acker and E. L. James. In particular, the use of British Sign Language here theatrically and not for reasons of access raises the intriguing idea that non-deaf and deaf audience members would experience the show in very different ways, but in ways that are inherently complimentary to the core nature of Schlock! and the questions it raises about language, content versus context, and what can happen on and around the periphery of language itself.

With Silva herself refusing in the excellent post-show Q&A to define what audiences should take away from the show, the onus is – rightly – on the viewer to piece together the indelible, often haunting, thoughts and feelings Silva leaves them with at the end of this hugely memorable and engaging piece of work.

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