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Reviews Published 12 October 2017

Review: Boner Killer at The Yard

New York cabaret star Erin Markey’s genre-defying performance mixes pop songs, queer fantasies, and slick feminist energy.

Alice Saville
01-Boner-Kiler

‘Boner Killer’ at The Yard

At the side of the stage there’s a bar. You’d need balls (real or spiritual) the size of vodka watermelons to actually use it, though. This space is 100% Erin Markey’s and she lets the young, rapt crowd know it with relentlessly fierce eye contact and a readiness to take the slightest murmur as an invitation to a battle of wits.

Alt-cabaret performer Markey is making work that’s hard to categorise even in the New York scene. It moves between nightlife, comedy and live art venues – and I suppose in London it’s even harder to work out where she fits in. Her mix of pop culture slickness and aggressively weird, multilayered sexuality makes me think of Lucy McCormick and pretty much no one else, which I guess makes sense of why this UK run of Boner Killer was originally meant to be part of a double bill with Frankenshow, McCormick’s new show with GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN. Its slow-burning, weird energy easily encompasses a double slot.

Fantasising about your own funeral is usually the prerogative of teenage goths or underoccupied OAPs but Markey sees her eventual demise as the only time she’ll get the production values and audiences she craves. It’s both a knowing comment on the glass ceiling at the top of experimental theatre – both in New York and in the UK – and a hugely fun excuse to use the audience as puppets in her morbid, grotesquely narcissistic fantasies.

Erin Markey is both a caricature and a real person, and Boner Killer plays with and dances along the invisible lines between the two. There’s a beautiful seriousness and hunger in her cosmic, eerie songs – performed with musician Emily Bate – that feels authentic, even when she’s gathering loose change in a baby doll’s crotch. Later, she becomes her aunt – a kind of awkward feminist mentor to her who gives her art books and speaks in a kind of donkeyish bray. But her aunt’s a persona, too, and we’re left to wonder whether the stories she tells of Guerilla Girl activism or Craigslist sex work belong to her, or Markey, or no one at all.

The performance’s queerness has this distinct, slippery quality, too. When Markey talks about her fantasies it’s never clear if it’s a joke or a real hunger or both. After longterm dependence on a rich man she says she wants to find a femme top and combs the audience for someone who can fill the blonde, hairbrush-wielding void in her bed.

It’s totally silly but it’s also embedded with the distinctly queer feeling that what you want is too weird to exist in the real world – it’s a pleasurable retreat into fantasy land that lives in the same childlike galaxy as her earlier references to her safe space among the stars with Rainbow Brite.

I guess the problem with Markey’s dreamy approach is that it risks invalidating actual queer experience. She says, albeit flippantly, archly, that blonde queer women don’t exist, that femme tops are only fantasy fodder – and on some level I felt uneasy with that, and the way it reinforces the real problem of femme invisibility, and old stereotypes around gender and agency.

Sometimes it felt a bit like the audience was being cast as the (literally) straight man to her all-powerful comic genius, too. In her dominatrix finale she sublimates her desires onto the body of an audience member, covered in cloth. It’s a moment that focused some of my worries about the performance, about the use of participation in a way that denies people agency.

But Markey’s sheer charisma and energy smashes some of these qualms away. She’s using the crowd to transform, succubus-like, into the thing she needs to be. And her virtuoso talent holds these unresolved themes in balance, making this an intriguing, entrancing evening.

Boner Killer is on at The Yard until Oct 14th. Book tickets here.

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Alice Saville

Alice is a writer, arts journalist and handicrafts enthusiast. As well as writing and commissioning for Exeunt, she's a regular contributor to Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine, and makes costumes for performance.

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