This Is Not Culturally Significant, Vaults Theatre

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Does Adam Scott-Rowley need to be naked for the duration of this absurdist monologue, as he shapeshifts between comic grotesques for a state of the nation dickaround? Is it a patron baiting gimmick or redundant, like my man gland?

Well, the nudity literalizes the conceit that Rowley is raw human material, repurposed as required. Other performers become with their clothes on of course, but not all are attempting to strip back their characterizations – yes, this is one of those reviews where the metaphors write themselves. There’s little time for anything more than broad strokes; these caricatures are dangled in front of us. Look, you knew a review about a show featuring a flaccid penis was going to be like this, so just suck on it.

Of course, Rowley being naked also changes the power dynamic in the room; it produces a certain tension, and this too is fundamental to the show’s design. These characters, ranging from a masturbating cam girl to a Scottish junkie picked up and raped by police, are types captured at their most naked and vulnerable. So here, Rowley’s wang (and simulated fouf) heighten that exposure. The audience is kept on edge. It’s a no-win situation; your eyes drop to avoid one penetrating eye only to be confronted by another. But who said sitting in the dark was easy?

The big, hanging question is the one suggested by the show’s title – is this culturally significant? Well, those on rebel watch should note it’s a safe show, one that maintains boundaries, unlike other naked fringe poinswatter performances like Kim Noble Must Die. The audience are allowed to stay to the end of this one, they’re not forced to be intimate and no woman’s left sitting alone with the performer holding a tub of his semen. There’s worse than a flapping ramburglar.

Rowley’s performance, unarguably ballsy, might be a spiritual successor to Gethin Price, the angry stand up/performance artist from Trevor Griffith’s Comedians. One’s tempted to assume the role of Eddie Waters and ask, where’s the hope? The culture imagined here is ugly, atomized, narcissistic, degenerate and dishonest. In character, as a dusty academic, Rowley asks the audience if we think he’s damaged. It gets a laugh, after all the man standing in front of you has his Reece Shearsmith on display, but ironically there’s nothing of Rowley, no personality to interrogate, just notes of others. The other.

It’s said academic who suggests that this is indeed culturally insignificant; a source we’ve been groomed to dismiss. Rowley’s ignorant Drury Lane compère, tells us there’s no magic in the mainstream, that not all theatre has to be a narrative. The show’s playful disavowal of its own artistic credentials is all good sport, but I did wonder, watching with all the veiled schlongs and mimsies in the audience, how much real magic there was in the fringe when there’s very little left to shock audiences seeking a subversive hit.

The trap with naked theatre – stage and actor – is its potential to be reductive. In the world of Brexit and Trump, where we’re being bullied into seeing people as types rather than the nuanced beings they are, perhaps there’s value in studying the layers people acquire and why they wear them.

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