"A Celebration Of People Talking Out Of Their Arse." 'Wild Bore' Gets Critical on Critics

16 May 2017 | 11:13 am | Maxim Boon

"This show is a celebration of people talking out of their arse."

In the theatre world, there are a few cardinal rules that aren't to be trifled with. Never work with children or animals. Never utter out loud the real name of 'The Scottish Play'. And perhaps most imperative of all, never ever lock horns with the critics. However, for three of the most radically inventive, boundary-bulldozing artists working today - the experimental comedy supergroup of Ursula Martinez, Zoe Coombs Marr and Adrienne Truscott - rules are made to be broken.

In their first collaboration as a trio, Wild Bore squarely takes aim at the medium of critique, blowing the doors off a genre of writing that, in its innately subjective viewpoint, can often get hold of the wrong end of the stick with both hands. Perhaps ironically, all three of these artists are incredibly well-acclaimed, having charmed reviewers and audiences alike with their genre-defying work. Australian comic Coombs Marr took out the coveted Barry Award at the 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival for the gender-bending clowning of her one-man/woman show, Trigger Warning. Both Martinez and Truscott, who hail from the UK and America respectively, have also achieved cult status across theatre, cabaret and fringe circuits internationally, for their fiercely feminist, politically powerful perspectives.

Indeed, these three polemical players cheerfully recognise the value of well-considered critical writing. "I went to the Edinburgh Festival in 1988 as a total unknown," Martinez recalls. "I did a show and the first night I had two people in the audience, and bearing in mind there were three performers on stage - me and my parents - and just two people in front of us. One of them happened to be a reviewer. I got a five-star review the following day in The Scotsman - it more of less launched my career."

"If you get a one-star review and then a five-star  review,  if someone says you're amazing and someone else says you sucked, that can be the best outcome."

So, what might provoke these experienced artists, buoyed by an ample amount of positive press, and insulated against negative write-ups by notable accolades and the adulation of fans, to pick a fight with the wordsmiths who connect them to the public? The trio are quick to clarify that their beef isn't indiscriminate. Wild Bore is as much an ode to quality critique as it is a lampooning of those reviewers who for whatever reason - inexperience; conservative tastes; calculated pandering - fall short in their efforts to fairly judge a work of art. What's more, the protection and maintenance of quality arts journalism is a topic of particular urgency for Martinez, Coombs Marr and Truscott, as mainstream media facing financial pressures have deemed cutting arts content to be necessary fat trimming.

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"Reviewers may be expressing a view from the perspective of their own personal tastes, but that has surely got to come from a place where they are already deeply engaged with theatre with an open mind. These writers are providing a service, and I think reviewers who don't understand that often don't understand how important they are," Truscott observes. "When arts writing is good and it has a readership, it plays a vital function within the arts community. It's not just about letting people know what's on; it's also about finding new ways of viewing work and revealing its place within a wider cultural context," adds Coombs Marr, "We're all part of the same industry, you know."

Of course, neither Coombs Marr, Truscott or Martinez have sought the quiet life as artists. All three have made defiance, of one variety or another, the nucleus of their creative practice, so in Wild Bore you can expect this anarchic instinct to be cubed. "The fact that challenging your critics is one of those things you're not supposed to do was a real provocation for us. If it's the wrong thing to do, it's probably the right thing to bring to the stage," Coombs Marr smiles. "I think it's quite satisfying to divide opinion," Martinez adds. "That's actually the same way I think about reviews. If you get a one-star review and then a five-star review, if someone says you're amazing and someone else says you sucked, that can be the best outcome."

Wild Bore is most easily categorised as comedy, but that's not to say its three creators are taking this subject matter lightly. "There's a lot of this show that's about frustration, because a bad review isn't just about bruising that surface-level ego - we make theatre because we really care about it as a form. So there's an element of challenging those traditionalist notions, which are very much alive and well in theatres and institutions. You've just got to push against that and fight it," Coombs Marr explains.

There is, however, more than one way to skin a critic, and part of this trio's tactic has been to mischievously turn a mirror on the verbose pomposity of review writing, luxuriating in the multi-syllabic, grandiose guff that some critics summon in their efforts to express their opinions. "Let's not forget the celebration of the terrible review," Martinez declares. "We have loads of terrible reviews that have really brilliant poetic metaphors that are fantastically awful and utterly over the top. This show is a celebration of people talking out of their arse."

Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez & Adrienne Truscott present Wild Bore 17 May — 4 June at Malthouse Theatre