Power Ballad

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Four Stars

IN terms of what words are worth, there’s a line from Annie Lennox’s anthem for independent women, No More I Love You’s, that speaks volumes about New Zealand artists Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan’s wild construction, first seen in Scotland at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Coming at the show’s climax, David Freeman and Joseph Hughes’ Roland Barthes-referencing lyric is the perfect glamtastic evocation of the show’s tragi-comic plea, nay, demand for a new language and, by default, a new way of being in a world run by macho bores.

Croft and Madhan take their cue from post-beat pre-punk provocateur Kathy Acker, whose literary adventures showed she too was no slouch in dissembling old clichés and lobbing fearless linguistic grenades through sacred cow classics. This was laid bare in spades throughout the recent large-scale retrospective of Acker’s work at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The result of Croft and Madhan’s efforts is a 50-minute mash-up of live art cabaret, karaoke fantasy wish fulfilment and a primer of taboo-busting fellow travellers, from Patti Smith to Peaches.

With Croft crawling onstage backwards, be-wigged and half dressed, a gymnastic display of microphone envy ensues, before she attempts to get a word in edgeways or otherwise about matters of gender. Trying identities on for size in Madhan’s production, Croft points up all the mono-syllabic presumption of a patriarchy that wouldn’t recognise its own ignorance if it attempted a square go with it, but still manages to come out fighting and with a smile on her face.

It’s not that Croft and Madhan don’t take themselves seriously. Quite the reverse, in fact, as this is fearlessly deadly stuff. It’s just that they’re doing it for themselves in a way that also makes for a riot of fun. As they take up the double-edged sword of the show’s title, Power Ballad gives voice to those who might otherwise remain unheard, not as elegy, but as a call to arms it’s OK to sing along with.