Ava Wong Davies: Ok this is like an hour after the show ended…ppfffttttttt…I feel really…like I’m not getting something or I’m not smart enough to pick up on something. And that’s a really shitty feeling if you’re a critic. I mean, all critics have shows that they don’t understand and part of the process of writing a review is figuring that out, but this was the first show in a while where I really felt like I was sliding down a wall.
So Figs in Wigs do Little Women (Little Wimmin), the beloved novel, which I’ve never read, and you’ve never read. Figs in Wigs are sort of chaotic live artists. I’ve never seen a Figs in Wigs show (and I don’t know if you have?) but I’ve heard so much about them so I was super super excited.
The first part of the show is the Figs standing on these floating platforms in these really elaborate beautiful costumes, these pink bejewelled dresses, and they’re talking about their intentions for the show, what they’re going to do, and why they decided to make certain choices. So they talk about why they’re eventually gonna make a margarita onstage – because in the text there’s a reference to lime and a reference to salt. And it’s all really tongue-in-cheek, and you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s actually in the text and what they’re just making up. And if that even matters.
Then really abruptly, half an hour in, there’s an interval – which I really liked. I thought it was funny to suddenly just plonk one down half an hour in. And then when you come back the second half is…an hour and a bit or maybe just an hour? Time goes really weird.
Anyway you come back in and initially you have this sort of “amdram” style production of Little Women and it’s all very schlocky and clunky and they’re all hamming it up a lot. Then it deteriorates and gets weirder and weirder and there’s a lot of dancing and there’s a lot of these really arresting images and things break down and the text gets broken down into really unrecognisable parts. I’m making that deterioration all sound quite linear and sort of easy to follow but it’s not – it’s hard.
I’m just gonna take a stab in the dark and say part of what it’s trying to do is talk about the way we approach texts (and I mean all texts not just literary texts) and the gap between text and interpretation. What I’m basically saying is that I think it’s about theatre and art which I think is always such a kind of…cop out thing to say as a critic but I feel like that’s what I come back to when I don’t really know what to hold onto.
Eve Allin: I felt like everyone around me was getting something I wasn’t getting.
AWD: I feel like part of what it’s doing is saying like – there’s such a trend now of doing these revisionist classics, like writing a show ‘after’ Chekhov or ‘after’ Ibsen. Take a show like Simon Stone’s Yerma, where it bears almost no resemblance to the original. And I think Figs are looking at that sorta thing and saying – does that source material actually matter? Do we need to have any reverence towards that source material? Or can we just make a giant margarita onstage for no discernible reason, with very little textual ‘evidence’ to support that artistic decision?
EA: I think you’re right that it’s about theatre and text and source text. Obviously this was nowhere near like what Little Women was or could be or should be or shouldn’t be idk, but I think that if you’re doing a text ‘after’ someone or are in its debt, then I think you need to love that source text and I think you need to find the appreciation for it.
AWD: Oh that’s really interesting what you said about you have to love the source, I hadn’t thought about that. Because I don’t think you have to love it, I just think you have to take it seriously and if you do that then you can play with it – which I think they did, and then they blew up its inherent absurdity. But – I don’t know. I felt myself straining to hold onto what they were showing the audience.
It’s not like they’re setting up a precedent and then they’re dismantling it piece by piece, like how RashDash dealt with Three Sisters [Exeunt review here]. It’s more complex than that.
Parts of it felt super clear, the parts that were addressing the fact that Little Women is a super sentimental text, and quite unfashionable in many ways. But the show didn’t really feel like it was about feminism really, which is fine, obviously, but I just felt very adrift in it all.
EA: I think there’s a self referential thing to Little Wimmin, of that literary text reading, the amdram, the Greta Gerwig. We’re laughing at ourselves a little bit. Is that something that other people are laughing at?
I had two theatre meetings today and in both of them we talked about the fact that theatre is so wasteful in so many ways. We insist on having these insane sets and completely ridiculous amounts of stuff is used, as it was in Little Wimmin, and then just thrown away for something temporary that doesn’t carry on and isn’t forever. Maybe that’s a beautiful thing, but also maybe it’s just a completely pointless thing as well. I felt very aware of the waste, here.
Often live art is not funded well and it doesn’t have the room and the space to stretch out and be two hours long and have an interval twenty minutes in with free pizza. This is the first live art thing that I’ve seen that’s had that kind of scale and that kind of money behind it, which is really interesting because it’s kind of like: does this work? The shoestring budget is what live art has always been built on. But also maybe that’s really unfair because obviously everyone wants a big budget, like that’s great, and we shouldn’t be down on that. Idk.
AWD: Yeah and you’re bang on about the waste thing. There was a relish in them doing it, but there was a relish from me as well because, well, it’s really fun to see a tonne of limes drop onto the floor. So I guess I’m a bit complicit in that waste. Or like – I didn’t ask for it to happen but I enjoyed it when it was presented to me. Is that the same thing?
EA: I wrote this like massive note halfway through that’s like ‘it’s just SILLY’ and maybe it is? Like there’s a level at which I’m like maybe they’re just having fun? They’ve got this massive budget and maybe it’s all just a massive game?
AWD: Yeah I like that reading of it, I think there’s so much value in that and we take so much joy in shows that are ridiculous and chaotic and are completely for the sake of themselves. But. They also set up a precedent with that initial “this is what the show is going to address, these are the things we’re going to do later” and then they didn’t follow through, which is in itself interesting but it’s purposely meant to make you feel adrift, as you said.
EA: I also think on the waste thing, is that it’s quite an unsexy text. Like it’s not a text that is filled with passion. It’s quite rote, it’s quite grey in lots of ways, and they made it quite sexy by having these neon orange costumes and the dance and the stupid huge hand and the horse head and the suit; they made it this quite audacious, extravagant thing.
AWD: At points it reminded me of In Bed With My Brother’s Tricky Second Album [Exeunt review here] in the way that it properly challenged its audience. In the way that it asked “Why are you here, why are you watching this?” And with Tricky Second Album, I understand why it’s pushing its audience away, but with Little Wimmin I don’t, really?
The next day
EA: Sometimes when repetition happens in live art, like in Moot Moot [Exeunt review here], or Real Magic [Exeunt review here, it pushes you through time from one space into another space and that’s the most beautiful interesting thing. In that new brain space, you can experience or understand or connect with the show in a different way. But if you’re constantly being uprooted – if your stage is constantly revolving or you’re constantly changing costumes – then I’m never taken into that new space.
AWD: You’re right about Moot Moot and Real Magic pushing it into something else which is just transcendent and not about the words at all. I felt like Little Wimmin wasn’t pushing for the Real Magic state of mind where you go to this weird higher plane – they were actually pulling the text down, and pulling the audience down until we’re all in this place where nothing means anything and none of this stuff matters. That’s where I ended up with it.
EA: There’s this idea of detaching from the text, from the words, from any kind of narrative. The place we ended up at was certainly not the place we started at, but it was closer to that pre-interval part of the show than the text itself is. So it kind of came full circle I guess. Maybe the intention is to just wrench the text from the performance or to separate language from intention, which is what we talked about at the beginning.
AWD: The whole thing about the text coming full circle I agree with – I think it really relishes being in that huge gap between text and interpretation. It really enjoys just sprawling out and taking up room and taking the time that it needs to bridge that gap.
I really like that. About the language changing. The idea that these texts are ours because they can change and evolve according to what we wanna do, so if you wanna have an interpretation of Little Women where you are really stupid and make a massive margarita because you read that into the text then that’s kinda valid. I think that’s a really nice idea but it just took so, so much to get there.
Figs in Wigs’ Little Wimmin was on at Pleasance Theatre from 6th-9th November 2019. More info on their website.