You don’t have to have moved house recently to appreciate Giselle LeBleu’s spooky, warm and thoroughly original storytelling show: but as her protagonist explores the pain of leaving the apartment she grew up in, something familiar bit away at me. In lyrical prose, she describes her mother’s Harlem apartment: a place that’s full of light, and marked by three decades of memories. Her narrative explores the fury that comes with displacement, deepened by the knowledge that her mother’s home is being marketed to white hipsters, part of a wider trend of gentrification.
But she’s also self-aware enough to satirise the petulance of a woman who’s determinedly dependent on her cool, free-spirited mother, who’s more than ready to cut the umbilical cord for a second time. Her narrative explores this relationship, recreating her time inside the womb, another lost home, in a hilarious sequence of perverse kicks and squeals.
These real world troubles are misted over with a smoke-machine fug of magic. It’s the kind of Hollywood-engineered, politically weighted magic that powers the horrendously misjudged romcom Ghost, whose medium character Oda Mae Brown exists entirely to enable the central white couple’s romance – but still, for all its ersatz campiness, has a kind of hold on Giselle. There’s a real pain and familiarity to the way she explores the sense of betrayal that comes with realising that a favourite movie (or anything) is also a bit toxic, built on stereotypes that feel uncomfortable. The scene where she enacts the movie’s endlessly creepy love scene was especially great, her hands reluctantly pawing at the air and her animated face shifting fluidly between pretended passion, and discomfort at the weirdness of the role Whoopi Goldberg’s character reluctantly plays.
The intriguing strands that make up this show don’t quite resolve: these weighty ideas hang in the air like so much smoke, without quite materialising into a final emotional punch. Similarly, live music from Lydia Benecke is appropriately atmospheric (if a little underpowered) but the show’s design, a single, redundant hanging window frame, doesn’t quite sell its dark magic. Still, if The Year of the Rooster Monk ends in an unexpectedly positive place, there’s still enough bleak mysticism underpinning it to cast doubt on this happy ending.
Giselle ends her show by telling us it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow – bring your Mum! At a hefty percentage of fringe shows that would be opportunism, but it’s actually not a bad suggestion: a place to think about the strength of those ties that link us to people and places, and why its so hard to sever them.
The Year of the Rooster Monk is on at Vault Festival until Sunday 11th March. Book tickets here.