When I was first confronted with the premise of “War Paint”, I must admit that I felt slightly nervous about going to watch it; presented as an interactive performance, suitable only for people aged 18 and over, trepidation was certainly felt as I walked into the theatre. This only increased when the usher told me and the other members of the audience that it was to be performed off-site. Rather than sitting down in a theatre, we were taken to a nearby flat five minutes down the road and told that we would be collected in half an hour. Feeling as though it couldn’t get any worse, I was pleasantly proven right- it got a hell of a lot better.
Rather than having to partake in the dreaded ‘audience participation’ that I was expecting, I was confronted with what was closer to a live art installation than a classic theatre performance. The flat we were taken to was made up of four rooms, and in each of them was a performer who totally ignored the audience. The four women were clearly getting ready to go out, and were each in a different process of doing so; one was applying makeup, another was trying on different outfits, one was depilating her legs, and the last one was in the bath.
“Feeling as though it couldn’t get any worse, I was pleasantly proven right- it got a hell of a lot better.”
While they were immersed in their various activities, hidden speakers played a series of experiences lived by women in relation to their bodies; issues raised included weight, body hair, periods, and body image. They varied from generalities about the way they looked to occasionally shocking anecdotes about the way in which they had been treated by men. As a man, I definitely felt like an outsider to these issues, it was not, however, an alienating process; these were subtle reminders of what the female experience of life is and just how different it is from the male one. This was driven home by the effort that went into their separate processes. Indeed, the whole performance was devoted to getting ready, and by the end of it, none of them were actually ready to go out- one of them was still in a dressing gown.
It felt highly surreal to be in a quasi-voyeuristic situation, in which we were on the outside, watching a very familiar process. This quickly became more of an uncomfortable feeling, which was surely the aim of the performance. As an audience, we were at once outsiders, watching a highly intimate process, but paradoxically, we had also been invited to watch, which heightened my feelings of uncertainty. This paradox was broken at the very end of the play, when all of the performers converged in the living room and essentially broke the fourth wall and stared us, the audience, down. It added to the feeling of discomfort, especially as they did not break character as we started to applaud, or when we turned to leave; they just stood there, defiantly watching us.
“….subtle reminders of what the female experience of life is, and just how different it is from the male one”
I was impressed by how much the actors were able to put across without any acknowledgement that they even had an audience. Not being addressed at all was a strange experience in itself, but once you can get past that and see it as a performance, you get much more out of it. I felt that it was an eye opening piece, executed, for the most part in a very subtle way (a notable exception to that being that the girl in the bath was reading a book called ‘I Love Dick’- a little on the nose if you ask me). I walked out with mixed feelings of discomfort and even guilt, meaning that the performance had done its job; it has stuck with me and will do so for a long time to come.
“they did not break character as we started to applaud…they just stood there, defiantly watching us.”