Notorious at the Barbican
With Notorious, performance artist Lauren Barri Holstein, aka “The Famous”, allegedly seeks to explore “constructions of femininity, gender and desire in a ‘post-feminist’ cultural society”. While the show successfully manages to subvert pretty much every single thing we’ve been raised to expect of femininity and female sexuality, it also manages to alienate its entire audience. While it’s true that Notorious is never boring, that is the only nice thing that can be said about it.
One of the first things theatregoers notice as they take their seats is the interesting choice of curtain. Thick, grey and made entirely of ragged wig hair, viewers will soon come to realise two things. The first being that this odd drapery is actually the thing about the play that makes the most sense. The second being that the staging is the least of their worries.
This idea of taking typical, fetishised aspects of femininity, evidently starting with hair, and bastardising them runs rampant and unchecked throughout the twisted heart of this show, to disgusting effect. Without giving too much away, those who aren’t interested in seeing a naked woman whip herself repeatedly with a big dead squid will without a doubt want to invest their time and money elsewhere. And that’s only (debatably) the second worst thing to happen on the stage during the course of the performance. Objects and liquids are regularly pulled and poured out of Holstein’s orifices, and either eaten or splattered across the stage.
Holstein’s goal seems to be to hold a mirror up to society, and flip the script on how we expect to view women. Each act is jarring and uncomfortable, and that seems to be her only objective. “This is the real me,” she repeats towards the end of the show, to an audience that is by now on the very edge of sanity.
But as Holstein makes abundantly clear, the spectator is not there to enjoy themselves in any capacity. Neither is she. That is as close to “the point” of this show that anyone is likely to get. As such, Notorious is frustrating, nauseating and unforgettable. More’s the pity.
Photo: Manuel Vason
Notorious is at the Barbican from 7th until 11th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Barbican website here.