Maverick Bristol live-art performance duo Action Hero (Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse) present their third work as the 2017 Art House Company in Residence, Wrecking Ball. We raved about their previous play Hoke’s Bluff, and they deliver again with a theatrical work that once again is hard to define, but is strikingly original and enjoyable.
The duo explore pop culture themes, extrapolating banal tropes to whimsical deconstruction of modern-day myths. In Wrecking Ball, a celebrity photographer holds a photoshoot for a pop star. She wants to ‘keep it real’. He wants to help her sell more albums. And what better way than a making eating a cone of ice-cream symbolise a nuclear mushroom-cloud explosion ravaging a pacific atoll? All very genuine, and sexy, and a place where being real ceases to matter or make sense.
The dialogue is almost Tarantino-esque, before transitioning into the second half where roles are switched, and the play transforms into something new. This time our pop star turns the table, making up her own image of the flannel-wearing, skinny-jeaned photographer. Isn’t he just playing a role too? With her statement that ‘everything seems fake, even you, and you are real’, it summarises the exploration of the meaning of identity in a world of culture of celebrity. But Action Hero never bothers to settle with the straightforward, and at this time the play pivots to a fourth-wall breaking interrogation of the audience — and the script that they interpret for our pleasure.
Wrecking Ball stands out as being as much theatre as it is visual art. The dialog is engrossing, supported by the natural charisma of the two actors. At the same time, given their live-art background, they take the bare set and sparse props to create images which could be framed, printed, and displayed as an exhibit. In Wrecking Ball, it is as if the audience takes on the gaze of the photographer, a photoshoot within a photoshoot.
Christian G. is an international man of mystery; lover of books, cats and the performing arts; moonlighting as a finance professional by day.