Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 21 January 2015

Be Better

Camden People's Theatre ⋄ 16th-18th January 2015

Introspective chaos.

Lydia Thomson

Generation Y. Born in the 80’s and 90’s, and according to research conducted at the University of New Hampshire (and – surprise surprise – featured in The Daily Mail), carry with us a poor work ethic and inflated sense of entitlement. Technology obsessed, absorbed by our sense of ourselves.

Let’s just let that sit for a while, and calm our rage, because to dispute it is not the argument that Be Better by Urban Foxes Collective endeavours to make. And anyway, Huffington Post articulate the aspertion in much more substantiated terms than the Daily Mail. The major element that is discussed, however, is that we have been brought up being told we are special, enough times that we might actually believe it.

This quite funny, slightly terrifying piece devised and performed by Saskia Marland and Elena Voce is set within the introspective chaos that prevails amongst this generation, and refers to those who are constantly fighting for the spotlight. It transpires that the only way to achieve that spotlight is to be better – to be the best you can be. Better than that, even, to be better than the best you can be. As such, we are welcomed to a cleansing ritual, in which we focus on ourselves, and cleanse ourselves of ourselves, and give birth unto ourselves. What that looks like, in practical terms, is broken down for us by Elena and Saskia, in the form of motivational and confessional monologues:

Perfect bodies. The incredible power to form your own world-changing, fulfilling, all-encompassing career. Setting the alarm for 8am even when you don’t need to get up, just because you have THAT much drive for life. Pursuing your dream career, feeling entitled to and unquestionably perfect for that career. This career will take priority over your life, so for women especially, you can forget having children. More importantly, you shouldforget, because the population is too big anyway. You’re doing the environment a favour. Doing your bit for the planet. Like avoiding buying the prawn sandwich at Tesco so that you are actively not supporting the unsustainable, unethical sourcing of shellfish.

Steal the sandwich instead, and then you’re screwing over the corporate monster that is Tesco. Win-win.

Oh. But then they only replace the sandwich anyway, and you’re back at square one, perpetuating the unethical sourcing of shellfish.

And Elena looks like she is absolutely about to go insane with this whirlwind of pressure imposed on her to look after the planet and not support Tesco and not have children and all she wanted was a sandwich. She is hungry, and hasn’t eaten in a while because she’s been concentrating on achieving her perfect body and suddenly the very act of buying lunch is a political statement and a crucial reflection on herself.

“On herself.” Let’s return to the solution to our (debatable) population crisis. “Women should stop having children.” In giving birth unto ourselves instead, we shed the old self, and embark on the power of the individual. Women, with the ego of an alpha male, you can fucking take on the world.

It’s a lot to ask, and it’s no wonder that Saskia (today is HER DAY) is a little nervous at first. This is where the comedy is at its strongest in the piece, and it’s a real pleasure to see the banter between the girls as they take to the microphones, and Elena declares herself as a goddess while Saskia dithers around the humble act of saying her name.

With Elena’s support, she warms to it, but it’s comparatively easier to project your ego onto the world from behind the mask of social media. After all, this is how Saskia found Elena: inspired by a photo of her on Instagram, she was drawn to seek her help under the programme #BeBetter.

The purpose of the programme is to pursue your full potential – the potential you know you have within you. Because you are special. It is to pursue your own self-betterment, to learn ALL THE THINGS and take amazing selfies and not be distracted by the Daily Mail sidebar, by Instagram, by procrastination overload. You can embody the new you, whipping off your modest, virginal nightdress to reveal shiny gold hotpants. You can stand on a pedestal and dance seductively with fans blowing wind through your hair. The fact that this happens way too much and for far too long in the show is only a reflection on how AMAZING and SPECIAL these girls are.

But like the unethical sourcing of shellfish, this super-charged approach to life is not sustainable, and we see Elena crumple beneath the weight of herself. Meanwhile, the student becomes the master as Saskia morphs into the grinding, writhing, half-naked epitome of a pouting selfie, who is more likely to have sex with herself than anyone else. But everyone will want to have sex with her, and that’s what matters.

The chaos comes to a crashing halt when Elena arrives back on stage with blood between her legs. She has fallen off the rails, and it’s hilarious to see Saskia totter around her in high heels and a leotard decorated with plastic bags, trying to calm her down. But what of the blood? Is it her period, and thereby evidence that she is not actually an alpha male inside? Or is it that in giving birth to herself, she has miscarried? Either way, we can have no doubt that the same fate will come to Saskia, and it lands as a warning to us all to throw off the nauseating introspection that is characteristic of our generation.

Whether we see it as a failing of our generation or not, we can no doubt do something more useful with our time than programmes for self-betterment and scrolling through Instagram. Although the show takes a primarily feminist edge, through audience interaction they assert that this message goes for everyone. And true to the lingo Generation Y grew up with, we would do well to just “get a life”.

It’s an interesting show, with deep, catalytic ideas and a dizzyingly strong voice. I can’t wait to see what Urban Foxes do next.


Lydia Thomson

Lydia writes about theatre for her own blog and reviews local work for the Basingstoke Gazette and the Hampshire Chronicle. She was also a member of the reviewing team for LIFT 2014. As well as arts journalism, Lydia is a playwright and performance artist working in Hampshire and London. She is an associate artist of Proteus Theatre Company in Basingstoke and is part of the artist's network at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton.

Be Better Show Info

Produced by Urban Foxes Collective

Written by Saskia Marland and Elena Voce




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