Jess Latowicki stands in front of the audience in a shiny green prairie dress, hands very precisely on her hips. She looks at us affectionately, like we’re kind of like her. Like we get it. This is Super Duper Close Up.
Before us is almost a glitzier, trashier cousin of the Royal Court’s set for The Prudes: two tiny cartons of popcorn sit at the foot of a pink, fluffy rug with a waterfall backdrop, and dotted around is a disco ball, a quartz lamp, some flowers (carnations? Dahlias?) in a vase. Softboxes flank the space. Above where she stands is a projected image: sometimes of that same pink rug, sometimes of pink anemones gently moving underwater, sometimes of the rug with an anemone overlay. If she steps forward, a close up of lips flash on screen, just for a second.
As the show progresses, Latowicki’s occasional robotic, crisp movements start to resemble something like a proto-sign language, underscoring certain recurring beats in what she says. But mainly she talks. She talks so quickly and relentlessly, in fact, that I don’t manage to transcribe anything substantial at all, but, even if I’d managed to, the feel for what she does with this speaking still wouldn’t carry over. It’s partly to do with the voice she uses as well as the speed, maybe consciously like Nick Kroll’s PubLIZity sketches, sort of furious in its blankness.
So from all of this talking we learn about her: about her tendency to arrive early, her training with crosswords to improve her memory and fend off Alzheimer’s, the way she dreams and sees and thinks about her late grandfather, the way she scrolls endlessly through her phone like the best of us do. She thinks of herself as an “inherently unlikeable person”. She refers to what she does as making “work”, rather than plays. She makes lists at us.
It perhaps sounds like something you might have seen before, but it feels a bit like being occasionally struck by lightning. From one angle Made in China’s show is an examination of the horrible effects of gendered anxiety. However, it doesn’t feel like a discredit to this layer to call Super Duper Close Up a spectacular portrayal of what just existing as a person is like: unending, unending and unending until ended.
Latowicki comes to sit with the front row of her audience and is filmed, as she continues to tell us what she thinks, and the image is projected live above the stage. She performs a skincare routine on one of these people she sits with and it’s this person’s image which is projected as Latowicki neatly attends. And then she dances to a French version of Robyn’s ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ and the camera operator (Valentina Formenti) ducks around her and we watch her and the footage of her at the same time, with some moves directly from Robyn. And we’re shown how easy it is to make a music video – something I think about a lot: isn’t there something quite insidious about the form of the music video, so seemingly contained and spontaneous and beautiful? – with the right kind of lighting, which this is, it all adds up to something completely choking to watch.
(An obligatory aside on audience participation: the show would shift a little depending on the perceived gender of whoever is brought up to be skincared upon, and I wonder if it’s mixed up night to night, or if a person appearing woman-enough to society is always selected, and how they make sure no allergies or deep aversions to being onstage are set off. But perhaps a friend is chosen every time. Meaning, incredibly, that I want to hear more of what Latowicki is thinking.)
It doesn’t matter how much the show’s character is or isn’t like Latowicki herself, or like us: the listening as well as all the looking, seeing, and watching we’re forced to do is formidable. Simply describing what happens doesn’t work for Super Duper Close Up, but neither does attempting to summarise it. I just wanted to stay in it.