Power Ballad @ The Blue Room (for Fringe)
Directed by Nisha Madhan
Performed by Julia Croft
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
A topless woman in skinny black jeans with long mangy hair enters the Blue Room studio like a dirty Lady Godiva who has lost her horse. We can’t see her face, and maybe we don’t want to. She moves toward a microphone stand, pulls out the mic, and begins to move it all around her body without using her hands. She wriggles, vibrates, thrusts, contorts and crab-walks around the space to Patti Smith’s Pissing In a River while the audience watches on in awe. And so begins Power Ballad, a solo work written by Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan, performed by Croft and directed by Madhan.
The mic is her main mouthpiece, her instrument and her prop throughout the work. She uses it to deconstruct feminist theatre, and indeed the art form of theatre itself. She pulls apart language – words are eviscerated, their patriarchal guts made raw and then consumed in a glorious flame through power ballad karaoke. She uses a modulator to give her voice growly gravitas or a squeaky shrill to emphasise her arguments.
She gives the audience a good stern talking to in her ‘lecture’ but then turns the mic around towards us when the karaoke begins. At first we don’t realise that’s our cue to participate; we’re waiting for the next surprise from Croft’s toolbox. But what joy (and some level of relief) when we realise we’re meant to join in, to be part of the show. Fittingly, the first power ballad we sing to is We Belong by Pat Benetar, for we do belong, and Croft makes us feel very much like this is our show, all of us together.
The power ballad is ultimately cathartic. It taps into our emotional circuitry and draws from our guts and hearts; it opens up a space where we are free to express FEELINGS (written in all caps here due to its significance within the show) and commune with others. No matter how confronting or confusing or provocative Croft’s material gets, we can all reconnect with each other through the power ballads. We sing along to Heart’s Alone and finally Annie Lennox’s No More ‘I Love You’s with the very apt lyrics:
No more ‘I love you’s
The language is leaving me
No more ‘I love you’s
Changes are shifting
Outside the words
Not that Power Ballad is a giant love-in; it’s not. It’s angry, built on contained outrage, the kind that leaves you speechless and feeling powerless. Semantics and the structures of language provide the framework for social inequality, and Croft and Madhan’s attempt to shoot this semantic framework in the kneecaps is extremely satisfying. If they’re leading the revolution, I’m coming.
Power Ballad runs until Feb 3 at The Blue Room Theatre as part of Summer Nights at FRINGE WORLD.