Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

Ursula Martinez performs her triptych of wry autobiographical performance works one piece at a time. On Saturday she once again offers all three – not as daunting either for performer or audience as it may sound, since each work is only an hour or so long.

Each pokes fun at the expectations of contemporary performance art by incorporating an element of self-parody (with a very English flavour of semi-apologeticism, not unlike Bobby Baker, also recently seen at the Barbican), as befits pieces that are at bottom about Martinez and her own attitudes, thoughts and feelings.

The first, A Family Outing, concerns her feelings towards her parents, and literally brings them onstage: her septuagenarian, Spanish mother Milagros and 83-year-old ever-so-English father Arthur Lea (Martinez being Ursula’s professional cognomen, from Mila’s maiden name).

In Show Off, a brief conjuring act-cum- striptease, culminating in a totally naked Martinez still producing a silk handkerchief from somewhere, is followed by an “after-show discussion” in which she responds to planted questions and tussles with her Ecuadorian stage manager.

OAP sees her confronting her fears of ageing by interviewing a group of pensioners on video and, apparently, transforming into her geriatric self (played by Eve Pearce).

With any artist, there comes a point where thematic preoccupation tips over into one-trick-pony fixation, and presenting these three shows together is not always to their advantage. One notices the extent to which Martinez relies on the same devices: the “call-back”, which finds her saying or doing something she had ridiculed half an hour earlier, the video-taped notes to herself or the live onstage/video “conversations”. In particular, her ploy of calling attention to a piece’s artificial nature (her parents even have a scripted discussion about how their words are scripted by her) often contains the echo of a self-congratulatory chuckle.

Having said all that, the climax of OAP, with “old Ursula” re-enacting the end of Show Off in which Martinez repeatedly asks, “Do you love me now?”, gains immense power from its juxtaposition with the original version. It’s not often that self-obsession manages to be insightful and fun at the same time. ★★★☆☆

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