From Wednesday to Friday this week
Ursula Martinez performs her triptych of wry autobiographical
performance works one piece at a time; on Saturday she once again
offers all three – not as daunting either for performer or audience as
it may sound, since each work is only an hour or so long. Each pokes
fun at the expectations of contemporary performance art by
incorporating an element of self-parody (with a very English flavour of
semi-apologeticism, not unlike Bobby Baker, also recently seen at the
Barbican), as befits pieces that are at bottom about Martinez and her
own attitudes, thoughts and feelings.
The first, A Family Outing
concerns her feelings towards her parents, and literally brings them
onstage: her septuagenarian, Spanish mother Milagros and 83-year-old
ever-so-English father Arthur Lea ("Martinez" being Ursula's
professional cognomen, from Mila's maiden name). In Show Off
, a brief conjuring act-cum
-striptease, culminating in a
totally naked Martinez still producing a silk handkerchief from
somewhere, is followed by an "after-show discussion" in which she
responds to planted questions and tussles with her Ecuadorian stage
confronting her fears of ageing by interviewing a group of pensioners
on video and, apparently, transforming into her geriatric self (played
by Eve Pearce).
With any artist, there comes a point where thematic preoccupation tips
over into one-trick-pony fixation, and presenting these three shows
together is not always to their advantage. One notices the extent to
which Martinez relies on the same devices: the "call-back" which finds
her saying or doing something she had ridiculed half an hour earlier,
the video-taped notes to herself or the live onstage/video
"conversations". In particular, her ploy of calling attention to a
piece's artificial nature (her parents even have a scripted discussion
about how their words are scripted by her) often contains the echo of a
self-congratulatory chuckle. Having said all that, the climax of O.A.P.
, with "old Ursula"
re-enacting the end of Show Off
in which Martinez repeatedly asks, "Do you love me now?", gains immense
power from its juxtaposition with the original version. It's not often
that self-obsession manages to be insightful and fun at the same time.
Written for the Financial Times.