Legendary lesbian feminist company Split Britches revisit over three decades of work in their new production Retro(per)spective, a compact gem of a show that, rather than resting on the laurels of past achievement, illustrates just how vital and refreshing they remain.
It is at its core a greatest hits medley, but it’s far from a lazy rehash. Scenes from old productions and newer pieces are thoughtfully reworked: sometimes played out against the video of their original, sometimes roles reversed, a wry nod to the ageing nature of the performers woven into the text (although both Shaw and Weaver are so spry – Weaver in particular not above flinging herself around the stage for effect – that when they state their ages at the start, the audience bursts into spontaneous applause and exclamations of disbelief). While there is plenty here for the devotee to enjoy – the air is thick with audience affection and many of the scenes are audibly familiar to the crowd – there’s nothing to deter the newcomer, except perhaps the sadness of coming to such entertaining performers so late in the day.
Excerpts are deftly woven together, forming, if not a linear narrative, then a coherent progression: themes of gender, sexuality, love and sex are dealt with smartly and sharply, all layered with an awareness of – and affection for – older women’s bodies that is exceptionally rare to see on stage. Old footage is used with cleverness and care, at times poignant, at times riotously funny, and for a couple of pensioners, the pair still have an impressive talent for physical comedy.
Chemistry and comic timing honed over decades is evident – they work beautifully together, effortlessly riffing off one another, two halves of a seamless whole (in fact, when they introduce themselves, Weaver fluffs her opening lines, introducing herself as Shaw). Their history gives the piece a palpable richness and warmth, but also the freedom to be playful with the material, lending it a freshness and immediacy that means it never feels dated. At the start of the show Weaver takes photos of us all, saying she wants to archive this show to revisit later, because they plan to keep going for years. On this evidence, let’s hope so.
Retro(per)spectre is on at at Live Collision Festival, Dublin, on 22nd April 2017.