Review: Ruff

By Split Britches
5*

Peggy Shaw saunters onto stage and hands out a shoe, an orange and a bottle of water to three random front-rowers. In the set comprised of a photographer’s backdrop roll, three video monitors and a microphone, Peggy Shaw creates images. At first she jokes that she keeps being mistaken for Sean Penn but she does herself a disservice. Penn is an great actor but Peggy Shaw on stage becomes her own light source. Her performance weaves together the personal and the pop into a compelling story and leaves the audience full of images conjured up by their own imaginations.

What this performance did was push buttons and Peggy is adept at it. She knows which images and text and sounds will be powerful to an audience and she takes these buttons and she plays them like a vast church organ of twentieth century references.

Split Britches, founded by Shaw and Lois Weaver with Deb Margolin has been creating work for the thirty years. The form of the show is what you’d hope Bryony Kimmings will be doing when she’s seventy. It takes the personal experience through a pop culture lens and adds an imaginative and theatrical flare.

Ruff is about a stroke which Peggy experienced. Or it’s about where the stroke left her. There is physical evidence in her shortness of breath and the fact that she needs to have most of the text on the monitors during the show. Her stroke or its after effects are on show and not only are they acknowledged but they are put to theatrical task. There is something ardently performative about this show and aptly enough there are references to great performers who held people in magical spaces if only for a short period of time.
At one stage Peggy sings her own version of Scott Walker’s ‘Jackie’ and she pounces on a line which says ‘for just one hour a day I could be myself’. In one sense she’s talking about the stroke which has restarted the computer of her brain and wiped many memories. But this health issue seems to bleed into the construction of identity. She claims the stroke was brought on by seeing a film of herself a s a thirteen year old in a dress, because she was so shocked at the way she used to move. The clash of internal and external, then and now are wiped out by a memory reset which leaves her with a raw personality striving to be herself for an hour every day.

I imagine most of us would be lucky to be ourselves for five minutes every day, but we’re comforted by what has always been and the many memories of when we were ourselves. Shaw in front of an audience for this hour and ten minutes seems as self fulfilled as one could be and that is perhaps why she is performing this piece, to put herself back together every night in front of an audience.

© John Fitzpatrick 2016

Peggy has made an awareness video of what to do if you suspect you’re having a stroke.

On at The Barbican Centre, London, until the 16th April 2016.  Booking.

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