I loved Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan’s last fringe show, Power Ballad – a thought-provoking, uplifting and funny hour that sat somewhere between performance art, stand-up comedy and an improv-noise gig – so I was keen to check out this new work, pitched as a sci-fi exploration of feminist futures.
A few weeks ago, an article by Abigail Beall for New Scientist reported on the need for better representation of women in our space programmes. Despite progress, female astronauts are still a minority, often forced to use equipment designed by and for men, and with little research having been done on the effects of space travel on non-male bodies. These are issues which need to be addressed today, if we are all to have successful futures. Croft’s new show aims to redress broader inequalities by exploring female agency in outer space, both in the utopias of our imaginations and through the actions we take in the present. It explores how women can rebuild and repurpose existing technology, spaces and structures to serve their own agendas. This is visualised for us both literally and poetically, as astronaut Croft gradually reconstructs Summerhall’s Old Lab studio space, mundane objects recast in unfamiliar configurations, coercing us to meet the performers halfway with our imaginations.
This space labour/play (Croft and co-worker both dressed practically in matching Lara Croft-style denim shorts and tank tops) is interjected with movement, dance, and at least one life-or-death fight with a pile of chairs. There are also a few well-placed bursts of pure spectacle. These moments of lyrical magic, conjured from unlikely lo-fi sources, are inventive, visually arresting, and simply beautiful – at points we are no longer sure if Croft is an astronaut or a more alien being altogether. These more visually rich moments emerge smoothly and then disappear, just as the intense bursts of pop music (which are never far away) and contextualising fragments of recorded speech rise and fall from the otherwise constant ambient background sound, soothing and lulling, which holds together this dark, immersive environment. We are all in this future space together, and, some minor health and safety worries aside, it’s a nice place to be.
The other main thread throughout the show, subtly referenced from the start, is the Wizard of Oz – perhaps as an acknowledgement of how impossible the idea of space travel still seems to most of us, or simply to suggest that we need better representation of women in fictions of our futures too. I’m honestly not sure. But as with any good work of art, that doesn’t really matter, as this never-boring show can also be enjoyed purely at face value.
The hour is soon over, and when the performers’ labours are finally complete, it feels like we’re all sat inside a large sculptural art installation, floating together, untethered, in outer space – a cosmos that’s been thoughtfully and decisively reconfigured around us. Some of the imagery and references may feel a little chaotic and we may not be entirely sure what it all means straight away, but the show sits in my thoughts long afterwards. If you want a show that lets you escape the hectic rush of the Fringe (and gravity) for an hour, but that will also find your mind drifting, days later, to ponder such crucial questions as the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz as a paragon of feminist agency, then this might just be the show for you.
Photo courtesy of Andi Crown.
You can see Working On My Night Moves at Old Lab, Summerhall, until 25th August at 21:55. For tickets, go to https://tickets.edfringe.com/. Power Ballad will be at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, on 12th-14th September.