In a dark room in the capital city of a country which already claims the unicorn as its national animal, a swastika formed from rearing, horned horse-heads flickers ominously on a projector screen. Part dystopian satire, part self-disclosing performance lecture, Unicorn Party is an unapologetically raw solo piece from multidisciplinary artist Nick Field.
Angry, glitzy, and at times charmingly slapdash, it’s a multicoloured mishmash of disparate ideas and performance styles that comes together with persuasive clarity. Here, intimate personal anecdotes sit alongside conspiracy-theory paranoia, while drag aesthetics collide with that kitschy, performative cuteness so insidiously present in much of the content we consume today.
Starting out as a tongue-in-cheek discussion of artistic depictions of unicorns through time and across cultures, the tone gradually shifts until we’re listening to the alternative history of a fascist coup staged by everyone’s favourite monoceroses. Images are popularised and commodified, Field suggests, in the same way as political ideologies are spread – through gradual market saturation, by feeding on nostalgia, by appealing to distorted notions of power and purity.
Field is a poised, immediately likeable presence on the stage. Though his performance can be hesitant at times, he smooths over the cracks with an agreeable blend of humour, warmth and vulnerability. Like the mythical creature he describes, he is continually reimagining and remaking himself. Peeling off layers and daubing on makeup, he tries on characters, transforming himself from totalitarian-police-chic – kitted out in a black cape and riot gear, faceless behind a horned helmet – to beaming purple-wigged youtube influencer, to blank-eyed victim of fascism, his identity vanished behind layers of state-mandated greasepaint and glitter.
Along the way he indulges a self-described sugar addiction, winding candyfloss around a spiralling horn, brewing up a pink-and-purple frappuccino in a cauldron in a faux New Age ceremony, or simply spraying whipped cream in his mouth and topping it with sprinkles. Later, in a wonderfully uncomfortable audience-interaction sequence, he hands out sparkly dildos and gets hosed down with syrupy “unicorn semen.”
The whole chaotic, twinkling mess is set off neatly by Alex Fernandes’ vivid lighting design, which douses the space in a rainbow of pinks, magentas, and violets, finally giving way to a harsh and inescapable white spot – the all-seeing-eye of the oppressive unicorn state.
For all its offbeat surrealism, the show feels a lot like logging in to social media – that same hyperactive collage of bright colours and disturbing images, bad news and trivia, that rictus-smile cheerfulness barely covering the undercurrent of something going terribly wrong somewhere.
While acknowledging that we all need to de-stress sometimes, Field draws a provocative link between harmless escapism and disempowering self-delusion, between self-care and self-policing. At the ever-changing meeting point of culture, capitalism, politics, and fashion, every symbol takes on multiple meanings, even the humble unicorn.
Unicorn Party is on at ZOO Playground at 6.50pm until 26th August, as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here.