REVIEW: Power Ballad (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Nathan Joe

Julia Croft

[Language Games]

Julia Croft’s If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution, Then I’m Not Coming used feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey as the jumping off point for a riotous deconstruction of female representation in our popular media. It put those common tropes we often take for granted under a critical lens and scrutinised the hell out of them, all while remaining incredibly funny and entertaining.

In Power Ballad, Croft and co-creator Nisha Madhan borrow from punk and postmodernist author Kathy Acker’s obsession with bodies and language. The central concern, which is another thing we take for granted, is the power of words. But, where Acker attempted to bring the physical onto the written page, Croft uses her body as the landscape to convey these ideas, reminding us that theatre is as much about live flesh as it is about text.

The reliance on Croft as a solo performer for the show, then, becomes crucial. But make no mistake about it, Croft continues to prove herself to be one of the most mesmerising performers around. Every action, no matter how minimalist or simple, is conveyed with the exacting precision of a Beckett play. She writhes on the floor, wrestles and wrangles with her microphone, and that’s just only the beginning.

Not simply presenting us with a unique and unconventional work, Croft trains us in how to experience it too. There’s a specific moment during the show, where the audience is ironically bombarded with glib statements about language. Misogynistic insults are peppered throughout, until finally a big domestic violence joke is dropped like a casual bomb. The silence is brief but deafening.

The staging is simplistic, offering a mostly empty space for Croft to freely navigate styles. For the most part the only thing on stage besides Croft is a microphone and its stand.

If there’s a single problem with the show it’s in the low-level blocking that takes place at the front of the stage, often resulting in poor sightlines for audience members further in the back.

Embracing the lack of a traditional narrative, Power Ballad relies on building on previous ideas or adding to the contradictory whole with each vignette. At just under an hour, the material might only touch the tip of the identity politics iceberg, but what it does it does expertly.

If language is, as they say, a game, then Croft and Madhan are Auckland’s finest rule breakers. Blurring the lines between theatre and performance art, Power Ballad denies easy labels. After all, they’re just words.

Power Ballad plays at the Auckland Fringe until 11 March. Details see The Basement

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