Dirty Crusty at Yard Theatre
Dirty Crusty, written by Clare Barron, follows the life of Jeanine (Akiya Henry), a woman whose life is lacking in direction and who has an interesting approach to hygiene. Through one way or another, she becomes intimately acquainted with mask-maker Victor (Douggie McMeekin) and Synda (Abiona Omonua), a former ballerina. From the beginning, it is plain that Jeanine is seeking to find something but also to really feel it. The central theme explored, therefore, is the body and its subsequent emotions; what can it do and how much pressure can it take, both mentally and physically.
The style and time period of this play is unclear; throughout it feels dreamlike, surreal – or perhaps it’s intended to be a parallel universe. However, the assumption is that Barron doesn’t want or need the audience to know this. It leaves room for the central and crucial theme to take centre stage, which is emphasised through the set and lighting design. The set is unidentifiable, designed in order to be transferable, fluidly moving from scene to scene. Set designer Emma Bailey utilises an end-on stage, with two pods either side, interchanging as the mask shop, the ballet studio and Victor’s bedroom, where most of the action takes place. Bailey also transforms the cyclorama into an additional tier high above the main level, where Rajiv Pattani’s lighting states are best on display. Pattani creates an equally ominous atmosphere through the use of projection and dry ice. One notable state is that of a time-lapse: the set floods with yellow light indicating day and the moon to indicate night-time, on a loop.
It feels as though Barron is using the performance of Dirty Crusty as a forum to push the boundaries of intimacy, forcing the audience to question what their own boundaries are by making them feel uncomfortable. She does this through her radically sexual script, the play’s tone remaining at this level throughout. At times the words are shocking, with bipolar-like interjections of black humour, some of them highly topical – such as references to abortions and fetishes. This would definitely be considered to be a challenging script for any actor, however the three leads seem to take it in their stride. The casting by Serena Hill is perfect; the on-stage chemistry created between these starkly different characters is nothing short of electric. Somehow this raw script makes an audience feel hooked: it is so bare that you want to know more; you want to be even more shocked than the last time. This is partly so successful due to the excellent comic delivery of the actors, which leaves the entire audience, at times, howling.
Dirty Crusty draws parallels with some of the best storytelling theatre groups out there, such as Kneehigh or at times Frantic Assembly. There is an inspired use of fun in this piece, through a collection of techniques such as a narrative that breaks the fourth wall, song and dance. The performance makes for a highly energetic, unusual production, but it’s hard to tell what Barren really wants us to take away from the play and raises an important question: if an audience comes away confused, can the work be successful? Has the experience tested us and made us think outside of the box? Or could it be that elements just weren’t as clear as they should be? Dirty Crusty is a performance in which one’s own experiences will be the route to answering these questions, so for that reason, it’s worth the watch.
Photo: Maurizio Martorana
Dirty Crusty is at Yard Theatre from 24th October until 30th November 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.