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Features Performance Published 1 August 2013

Theatre, Trauma and Transgression

Dr Charlotte Cooper - psychotherapist, journalist and fat activist - has been working with the performance artist Scottee to create The Worst of Scottee, a new piece about truth, lies and identity, for this year's Edinburgh Fringe.
Charlotte Cooper

When I graduated as a psychotherapist nobody told me that the skills I’d learned would take me to some weird places. Recently I found myself in one such spot, watching a photographer set up in a chic basement studio in Clerkenwell, and waiting to interview a series of people about someone they knew ten years previously.

The first catch was that nobody had told these people who it was they would be talking about, it would come out in the course of the conversation. The second catch was that the person they had been invited to talk about was someone who had let them down badly, told them outrageous and upsetting lies. The person in question was, of course, Scottee. Most people would not invite those  they’d wronged in the past to come and vent about it on camera, they’d be more likely to want to forget about it. But there is power, beauty and enlightenment in relinquishing shame, in daring to look at the stuff most of us would rather avoid, and this is the basis of the show The Worst of Scottee, which opens at the Edinburgh Fringe this week.

In the piece, directed by Chris Goode, Scottee examines a series of troubling past events in a beautiful photobooth set, putting them into context with the interviews we filmed, music and theatre. Although this wasn’t therapy, I was recruited to encourage the interviewees to spill the beans on Scottee’s past transgressions; to listen, to ask questions, and to do this in as ethical and consensual way as possible so that everybody remained emotionally safe. The amount of work behind the scenes to contact, inform and invite folks to participate in the project was already phenomenal. Not everybody who was approached took part, it was a lot to ask of people but, miraculously, some did.

In conversation I got the feeling that the interviewees wanted to clear the air and that they still felt a lot of tenderness towards Scottee; some had even been following his career. To the interviewees, all women of colour, it seemed that Scottee, a white guy of Irish heritage, was a person of great energy, talent and charisma. I felt that there were unspoken dynamics of race, gender, class and sexuality being played out that I didn’t really understand. I wanted to encourage these women to claim their own power in the story.

Scottee's interviewees.

Scottee’s interviewees.

Yet the mystery remained: why did Scottee tell such gigantic lies? I suspect that there will never be one big explanation, and that the show’s participants and audiences will have their own theories. People demurred when I suggested that he just happened to be a little shit. Scottee’s social context as a teenager illuminates things a little: a working class fat queer femme with an eating disorder, failed by the education system, a child in a struggling family that probably had to cope with antiIrish sentiment over the years, living in an area divided by gentrification, relying on insecure youth services, and so on. People without access to power sometimes enact power in dysfunctional ways, like manipulating people.

The Worst of Scottee also reveals plenty of trauma. Despite the neoliberal rhetoric of pulling up one’s socks and getting to work, nobody really thrives when they are suffering abuse, and the pain gets channelled in peculiar ways, like telling someone you have AIDS when you don’t, for example.

What is extraordinary is that the stories are being told at all and that Scottee survived with the strength and resilience to go deep into his biography. Sometimes melancholy, peppered with bleak humour, Scottee gives the most vulnerable performance of his career; it’s moving and curiously liberating to witness, and enables you to think about how a person might come to terms with their own regrettable moments.

The Worst of Scottee, directed by Chris Goode, is at Assembly George Square (8:40pm), Edinburgh, from 1st -24th August 2013.

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