Plant Fetish is really casual, barely performative. Chanje Kunda sits alone on her sofa, surrounded by plants, and talks to us about her attempts to forge connections with men. The tone occupies a strange place somewhere between stand up comedy and a lonely stranger talking to you at a bar. Plant Fetish is a show about needing hope – about trying to find a sign of a concrete future – and finding every hint of it melts through your fingers. Chanje has been dating men for ages, and either they either turn out to be knobheads or she slips up and cuts contact.
Chanje is reaching. Hope is real, you just have to want it, find it, seize it and trap it. But Chanje doesn’t know what form that hope will take. I look at the plants onstage and wonder if they are real. I still don’t know if they are real. I assume at least most, if not all of them are – but they could all be fake. They could feasibly all be plastic props and I’ll never find out. Whether they are plastic or plant-flesh they are signs. More than anything they are just representations of wholeness, of freshness, of health. They’re there because people who have their lives together and sorted and aren’t scared or reaching or lost own plants and live in beautiful places.
The hope for a better future that Chanje is trying to find is as artificial as the moment of wholeness she finds when she gets over one hundred likes on a photo of her. The achievement represents only itself – she tells us that it happened but there’s no plot moment there. Once it has happened (as soon as it happens) it is done, gone. It doesn’t continue or affect a story.
I don’t know what hope there is. Could hope be sharing? Maybe. But Chanje often isn’t sharing so much as offloading. It is as if we have stumbled into her flat and she needs to let out the thoughts she has been having, like these things have been percolating in her and she has to prove to someone that she is at least trying. She has done so many things, surely they can’t have been wasted effort?
Plant Fetish is more a show about individualism than it is about plants, relationships or self-care. Chanje is trapped because she conceives only of herself, acting outward to try and fix herself. What is the possibility of care when there are so many things to fix? What is the possibility of connection when you are turned inward upon your own circuitry? Surrounded by leaves as she is, perhaps leaving is Chanje’s issue. The men she seeks leave her or she leaves them. She flies away on holiday and her traumas chase her. She describes them boarding the flight along with her because they occupy her body, they hound her. Chanje’s problems, for her, cannot be removed or placed aside, they are somehow integral.
Often, I feel Plant Fetish forgets to take the audience with it. Chanje is bound up and filled with longing but the logic she follows is obscure. The journey she takes through the show is not for our benefit, but hers. She finds her moments of clarity, her small victories in whatever battles she is fighting, but the structure of Plant Fetish fails to make it clear what is being won.
The tragedy of Chanje’s character is that she is searching for people to tie herself to just to legitimise herself. She wants human connection, she wants to be married to a man, because the heterosexual marriage is a settled state. Perhaps she will become someone who is not unsettled if she is married. But again, that marriage would be as plastic as plants. She talks to us about a group of Mexican women she read about, who married trees. They did it to be noticed, in a legal sense, in a social sense. Chanje seizes on this and marries a cactus, indulging in the idea ‘Finally, I’m married!’ And the idea stops, it kills itself. Marriage is not a journey but an abstract goal; once it’s completed it’s on to the next item on the list.
Chanje is adrift in a vague place. The people in her life, men, her son, don’t assist the story. She’s married to a plant but she isn’t bound to anything. I don’t know how Chanje moves between emotional states. Everything has already happened and as an audience all we are met by is a woman who has moved past things, finding herself in a present which will do for now. I’m left wanting, hungry, not feeling quite like I have been met, or that I have been present.
I struggle to see who Chanje is, or where she is. I know she has a son, that she has had some dealings with the NHS and that she must live in Manchester but her material conditions in general are obscured. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, but neither do I know what she is reaching toward; if she needs something from her audience beyond an ear for an hour, I don’t know what it is.
Plant Fetish makes a gesture outward – some kind of gift has been handed. The show ends on a note of peace and quiet space, and I don’t know who this peace is to be gifted to. Maybe hope in the end is space created together, but Chanje’s aims are personal; whatever we’re allowed to share of that journey isblocked, like a plant facing the sun, obscured by larger leaves.