Being on stage alone can be an intensely vulnerable experience. Eyed down by a crowd and isolated by an invisible yet palpable barrier, a solo performer can feel powerless. And conventional masculinity, as Scottee’s Bravado demonstrates, repels that sort of vulnerability in the interest of protection and self-preservation.
With celebrated performance artist Scottee being markedly absent, vulnerability is positioned at the centre of his new piece, a stunningly touching memoir of working class masculinity from 1991-1999. Designed to be performed in masculine dominated spaces, such as male locker rooms or pub back rooms, it details Scottee’s childhood on a North London estate, and evokes ideas of power, intimidation, aggression, and longing.
But it isn’t him who tells it. Three analog screens introduce the show and then insist on a volunteer to help; everything halts to a stand-still until a hand is raised. Instantly the space becomes pressurised, and the darting eyes around you intensify as time goes on. You worry your friends might betray you, lifting your hand against your will, and you stay tensely still, afraid any sudden movement might woefully thrust you into the petrifying spotlight of audience participation. Once a hand is raised, the brave soul separates from the collective and stands in the centre of the three screens, a teleprompter in front of them. The stage manager whispers in their ear and then the memoir begins.
Divided into four parts (Blood, Spit, Tears, and Cum), with Oasis songs in between, the volunteer reads through Scottee’s story. By destabilising the audience/performer distinction, it becomes difficult to negotiate one’s identity on an ‘us/them’ axis. It also is startlingly similar to that feeling of childhood I remember so well — seeking safety in the clique, but feeling an always-present danger of being singled out. The volunteer (for us a lovely bashful guy who was most nervous when singing) becomes both performer and audience member, learning the narrative as they tell it.
Scottee’s story itself, a well-constructed and evocative minefield of violence, sexuality and loneliness, is potent in the speaker’s voice. The volunteer delivers a heart-wrenching and deeply intimate memoir that isn’t their own, but is constantly informed by familiar images of 90s television and video games (Street Fighter, Saved by the Bell, WWE Wrestling, Baywatch) that flicker through the screens.
The final section, ‘Cum’, is a repetitive confession of Scottee’s feelings towards the boys and men from his estate, the volunteer speaks: ‘I want to use their real names, I want them’. While perhaps requiring a slight edit, this repetition of ‘I’ and ‘them’ brilliantly confuses the distinction of who is speaking and whose story this is. It would be interesting to see how this plays out with a female voice, but here Scottee masterfully disrupts the infrastructure of masculine narratives and repositions vulnerability and intimacy (even his own) into the centre of the space.
Scottee’s Bravado is deeply moving and strikingly intelligent theatre-making – and one that might well be Scottee’s most impressive feat. The work feels like a community-fostering experience, a memoir that extends beyond one voice and into the many.
For more information on Bravado, click here.