As the curtains rise five figures are revealed in a pink mist, levitating in floor length gowns with their heads in the clouds – ‘higher beings’. They are Figs in Wigs. It is one of the best beginning visuals of a performance I’ve seen in a long time. If you get these first impressions right then you’re in with a good chance of winning over the audience.
With irony, they go on to play the all-knowing angels, offering some context to what is going to follow in this self-identifying ‘live art’ interpretation of Louise May Alcott’s novel, Little Women.
When I was a student I loved the idea of live art, its intellectualism of performance and political roots drew my pretentious-art-student-self right in. As the years went by and I slowly sunk into the cynicism of age, I realised that we should not be using the term “live art” to get away with making self- satisfying and bored-to-death art. This is just a side note, I wasn’t bored.
Anyway, they talk us through specific parts of the story, what themes they have found, meaning they have deciphered and how they have adapted them. This analysis is meant in jest, a tongue-in-cheek comment on the slightly absurd nature of interpreting 200 year old texts in a contemporary context: for this version the Christmas Tree symbolises deforestation.
By the end, it’s like having read Spark Notes for ‘Little Wimmin’ by Figs in Wigs. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, actually maybe they meant this, to explore this notion of interpreting poetry or novels, as we do at GCSE or A-Level, and ultimately how we will never know the symbolism of a lime. ( Part 1, Chapter 7 of Little Women; Alcott:1868) Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into that.
Then we get an interval!
Everyone loved this, 30 minutes in and they can already get another large glass of red wine.
Relaxed back into our seats, with wine in hand, we enter the second half, in the comfort of knowing that it’s going to be good. There is some loud thrashy music, strobe lights, and… Oh! We’re watching a play! There’s a set, a tableau, and they are clearly in character – ready to be Little Women! Much like a director would with a play script, they have de-compartmentalised the text, picked out their favourite bits to use as tools for their own ideas, around the patriarchy mostly.
And they do this really well. There is one scene where the five women despair over the absence of their Father, and take inspiration from his suffering to be the women he would want them to be. Figs in Wigs adapt the speech here and repeat, repeat, repeat until it’s a farce, as is the idea that without a man, a woman would not know how to live.
As the play goes on, it unravels in slow motion to a dream-like soundtrack, and as it spirals into the surreal and filmic, all the other meanings and themes fall away, leaving us only with feminism. So we spiral into this feminist farce, and just as we are going at full speed, running away with ourselves into this mad nightmare POW!
A Christmas Tree sings us into live art.
And so some live art plays out until we are in the bar on our third glass of red wine…
Side note: years ago I watched a Florentine Holzinger show and during the Q&A someone asked her why she made it, she replied:
“Because I needed the money, this is my job.”