There is more than one way to sell your body. After standing in the dole queue for their last show, Job Seekers Anonymous, Sh!t Theatre are now trying to get cold, hard cash in exchange for theirs. Having noticed that medical trials were being advertised at the Job Centre and to students at their old university, Becca and Louise (Bouise for short) decided to give it a go. How hard could it be?
It turns out, however, that becoming a guinea pig is no easy task. Guinea Pigs on Trial documents Becca and Louise’s many attempts to get onto phase one medical trials, almost all of which failed at the first hurdle. Their bodies are no good for Flu Camp or Heroin Holiday. At the same time as recalling these efforts, Sh!t Theatre dig around in the shadowy depths of the pharmaceutical industry, hitting dead end after dead end.
It’s grim subject matter, but Sh!t Theatre inject it with a bumper dose of offbeat satire. In conducting their investigation, they follow the example of Mulder and Scully in the X-Files – a fitting reference point for a world teeming with misinformation and conspiracy theories. The show is pumped full of similar pop culture allusions, from a reworked spoof version of the song “Summer Holiday” to British sitcom Butterflies. It can all seem bitty and disparate, until suddenly the various different pieces slot surprisingly and convincingly together.
Like their contemporaries Figs in Wigs, Sh!t Theatre make serious points with calculated silliness. The “isn’t this all a bit shit?” pose – right down to the memorable company name – belies a sharp, fierce intelligence. Most impressive, especially given the innocuous cuteness of many companies at a similar stage of development, is the angry political drive that sits beneath everything they do. There is always something at stake here.
Although this is a piece built around personal experience – and, in this case, considerable personal risk – Guinea Pigs on Trial really takes off when it transforms into a larger, structural critique. As Sh!t Theatre expose in their own wonderfully wacky way, the big question is not around the medical trials so much as the culture of profit that has produced them and the culture of austerity that leaves those in poverty with few options but to gamble with their health. As long as money governs research, how much trust can we really place in medical developments?