Sunday 16 April 2023

MS BEIGE BROWN GOES BEYOND: Theatre Review

WHAT: Ms Beige Brown Goes Beyond
WHEN: 13 - 22 April 2023
WHERE: Queen Victoria Women's Centre (Wayi Djerring)
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY: Cathy Hunt
SOUND BY: Jess Keefee
LIGHTING BY: Natalya Shield
PERFORMED BY: Yvette De Ravin Turner, Chris Flemming, Cathy Hunt, Shannon Loughnane, Tom Schmocker, 

Yvette De Ravin Turner, Cathy Hunt, and Tom Schmocker - photo by Darren Gill

If spoken word and indie theatre had a love child, the result would be Ms Beige Brown Goes Beyond which is currently being performed at the Queen Victoria Women's Centre as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. In a semi-surrealist adventure, "Australia's foremost feminist performance poet..." takes on Centrelink and applies for a community grant in a desperate effort to maintain her integrity as an artist, but also pay her bills.

Ms Beige Brown is a character created and performed by Cathy Hunt and has been haunting poetry and spoken word spaces for years. She has her own YouTube channel and a documentary about a period of writers block she experienced, which has done the festival circuit as well. Brown has been disrupting the masculine ouvre for a long time now.

In her documentary Brown describes her poetry thusly, "I take a word and find a stowaway and then... I shipwreck that word". Indeed, in the poetry she recites in Ms Beige Brown Goes Beyond there are many shipwrecked words, cleverly scuttled through the interogation of rhyme. Brown also says, "I take the non-sensical pronouncement to... dismember the big phallus." In this show there are two big phalli - Centrelink job search and the arts grant application processes across our great nation. Brown doesn't just dismember them. She spears them, guts them, and then shreds them as this comely, non-descript woman wields her words to point out the dehuminising, the insincere, and the ridiculousness of both.

The show starts with an unimposing woman - reminiscent of Jessica Fletcher - fumbling her way to front of stage to present a spoken word piece about grocery shopping. As the opening poem expands it's lungs we discover Foucalt in the fruit and vegetable aisle and Derrida in the dairy section. We realise this alliterative rambler might just be very funny AND have something unseriously serious to say.

Using the Derridesque deconstruction of language through alliteration, rhyme and non-reason, Brown castigates the power structures in Australia which actively work to drown artistic endeavour and bury artists in sustainability and ontological rapscallionry. Foucault would be proud of how skilfully Brown reveals and revolts againt the social control imposed by these structures and processes. She implores us all to open our minds and our hearts and our orifices to look at the true essence of the artist and to honour and value them. Don't be fooled by systems and processes and scores which are all designed to defeat rather than uplift.

As good/bad as Brown's poetry is, the point could not be made as strongly without the wonderful characters Hunt has created around Brown in this process. Shannon Loughnane (Ruben) almost steals the show as the well-intentioned job search consultant. Their saccharine friendliness hides a totalitarian obsession with procedure and an obdurate commitment to tick boxes. They make the term sustainable arts practice resonate with a loathesome quality aptly echoed in the brief hints through lighting (Natalya Shield) and sound (Jess Keeffe) that Ruben is actually the Devil incarnate.

Yvette De Ravin Turner also brings the laughs with her depiction of Jangela, the Morebin Council functionary who's lack of interest in the arts and lack of understanding that these grants processes are people's lives at stake is hilarious - or would be, if it wasn't so true. She also plays a few other characters, with a particularly outrageous cameo as one of a pair of European sock puppeteers.

The other puppeteer, Tom Schmocker, plays a range of smaller cameos. One of my favourite is as the durational performance artist railing against the tyranny of time and Tik Tok.

Ms Brown Beige Goes Beyond is so very funny. Everybody will get a laugh, but if you have ever been in the Centrelink job search system, applied for a grant, or - for even a second - considered yourself an artist of any kind you will be belly-laughing your way through the hour of this show.

4 Stars

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