QX MAGAZINE - 28/07/10

Flower in the attic

Cliff Joannou experiences Cognitive, performance artist Scottee’s latest fully-interactive gem…

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m waiting outside an unassuming door at the very top of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. On the way up this hallowed venue I pass odd nick-nacks and random bits of draggage, as well as a trannied-up blow-up doll fastened to the staircase. Perfectly RVT. It’s weird to be up here, when for the last thirteen years of my gay scene clubbing life all I’ve known of the infamous RVT is its ground floor club room, a steaming cauldron of queer entertainment, a sometimes dancefloor/sometimes theatre space that plays host to more variety George Michael up the ‘Heath.
I’m here because I have the pleasure of being the first person to experience cabaret terrorist Scottee’s latest artistic onslaught. Afterwards, in Scottee’s dressing room I explain to him that in the past I’ve used that term – “cabaret terrorist” – in QX when referring to performance artists like him (and David Hoyle, Jonny Woo, et al) who take the traditional model of stage-based entertainment and transform it into something challenging and genre-busting, defiling the status quo. He muses on it, and I’m not sure if he likes it or not, but I believe it sums up succinctly for any newcomers his introspective and unapologetic performance style.

Already established as one of the queer community’s pioneering voices in alternative theatre, for years Scottee has cast a creative eye at the way humanity interacts with the world around it. His work has stared into the heart of such issues as our relationships with food and obsession with the body beautiful, to the prejudices of ageism. Today, I’m here to take a trip into childhood, to recall those days spent alone in our bedrooms. It’s a time that we tend to forget in our adulthood.
To tell you what happens once you go through that door at the top of the RVT’s backstage staircase would be to unfairly spoil Scottee’s creation, but what I can do is share with you the thinking behind his latest piece of confrontational theatre.

The first thing that changes the status quo of his previous work is the one-to-one nature of the piece. You enter alone, you are the audience. It’s just you and Scottee and the truth according to his intricate mind. Through the breaking down of the ‘fourth wall’ – i.e. the traditional division between stage and audience – you watch the performance via a mirror on the wall of Scottee’s erstwhile ‘bedroom’, before directly participating in the enfolding events.

Through the use of music and film, Scottee has me recalling those isolated moments of childhood away from prying adult eyes, alone with my thoughts. It’s a time when most of us explore our relationship to the world, trying to figure out how we fit into the grander scheme of things. Perhaps as gay kids we don’t realise just how instrumental these private moments are? For many of us, unknowingly at the time we try to identify how we fit into a world that we are instinctively instructed by our parents to be a heterosexual one, while deep inside habouring homosexual feelings. After all, a parent holds their newborn baby in their arms and dreams of that child one day becoming a doctor/teacher/lawyer (*delete as appropriate), but never as queer. (Hell, I know some parents who would have rather their children be estate agents than gay!)

But this is more than just an exploration into burgeoning sexuality. It’s a voyage into the purer thoughts of our formative years - and also the darker aspects of that time. Here Scottee asks us to step away from the comfort zones that we create for ourselves later in life. It’s naïve to assume that all childhood imaginings are innocent. As kids our bodies change so fast, our minds evolve at such a pace, and our experiences are often rarely always lovingly nurturing, that it’s easy for our grown minds to forget the sheer loneliness of being a child in an adult’s world.

Which direction your experience takes is determined by your own good or bad formative memories. How deep you delve into your psyche depends on how prepared you are to break your barriers down. Afterwards I ask Scottee how he’ll deal with the no doubt individual nature of how each person reacts to this highly personal and experimental work.
“I guess I’ll find out as I go along,” he replies. As ever, a cabaret terrorist par excellence.

Due to the one-to-one nature of ‘Cognitive’, extremely limited time slots for the performance are available on either Friday 6th or Saturday 7th August. To book, go to www.rvt.org.uk

Cliff Joannou

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