About two years ago I started looking up and thinking about home. Or rather, thinking about houses. Perhaps it was the planned demolition spectacle of the Red Road flats for the opening of the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, or the increasing level of disdain David Cameron was heaping on 60s and 70s social housing projects, or just the realisation that my front room smells like farts because of an irreparable damp problem rather than my own flatulence. For the first time I actually began to look at these physical structures: walls, textures, bricks, angles and concrete. I looked at a lot of concrete. I joined the brutalism appreciation society on Facebook and watched strangers fight over architectural definitions. I started to read books about new towns, post-war utopias and democratic building revolutions across Europe. I started talking to an architect and a town planner. And raw concrete merged with government policy, speeches, and men – so many men – talking about the future. Designing it, shaping it, dictating it. Sometimes with good intentions, but often with more sinister ones. I enlisted the help of researcher Elin Jones who writes about the relationship between masculinity and the built environment. And I started to make a show.
From the mess, this research and obsessive amounts of looking up at the built environment, came Cuncrete, a drag king punk gig about housing that the Great White Males – my anti-virtuoso punk band – will perform at Summerhall at the Edinburgh fringe. And I became Archie – Archibald Tactful, an all-powerful architect – permanently middle aged, permanently peddling the future. Somewhere between Anthony Royal – the architect/god in JG Ballard’s in High Rise – and David Byrne.
This is not the first time I’ve made a show about politic and policy, or dressed up as a bloke. My 2014 solo show How to achieve redemption as a Scot through the medium of Braveheart discussed the independence referendum debate through the (imagined) voices of Alex Salmond, Donald Trump and William Wallace (as portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart). There’s something powerful about taking these ‘authority figures’ and speaking through them. Because if I am Donald Trump – I can make him say whatever I want.
For Cuncrete we wanted to go a bit further – to create a gang of men with such broad brush strokes that they could stand in for an entire social group. The men that, if you boiled down the current housing crisis, back through layers of policy, building contracts and idealistic chat, would be left at the bottom; untouched by it all, immune from criticism, poverty or morals. The Great White Males.
I’m interested in the untouchability of extreme privilege. In the fact that, even though it was a GREAT day on Twitter (possibly my favourite ever), fucking a dead pig didn’t actually touch Cameron.
In our society, the most normal thing you can be is a white man in a suit; it’s our point zero. But not that many of us actually are. Statistics show that only about 10% of the UK population falls into the ‘straight, middle-aged, white, middle-class men’ bracket. By performing in drag we have the opportunity to take a perceived norm and make it weird. To queer the perspective. By knocking something off-centre you can ask questions, make people think, make people notice. With drag nothing is ever totally certain and I love that instability.
The Great White Males are Archibald Tactful, johnsmith, Johnnie Jove and Little Keith – an architect, a banker, a politician and a housing developer. They are all very real and very fake at the same time – we don’t pretend to be skilled actors, we can’t play instruments, and we’ve never written songs before. We are a group of weirdo girls in suits, hair-gel and a lot of eyeliner that missed our eyes and hit our upper lips instead.
There is something curious about imitating something you know so well, but don’t know how to do. The whole show comes from a kind of crude, honest level of observation. In terms of making music – we’ve decided we can do it because we’ve all heard music before, so we know what it sounds like. Likewise – the men in charge, the influence – we all live with that all the time, so in a way it’s very easy to do. Making the show has been an exercise in saying – we can do this, we will do this. It feels ballsy and empowering, like we’re getting to be teenage boys, finally.
We should be angry about what is happening in our cities. Council houses are being sold off and luxury housing developers like Lend Lease (Elephant & Castle redevelopment) and the Berkley Group (Woodberry Down) are building flats explicitly for millionaires to buy and leave empty. And all the while homelessness is rising, and our government is hammering home the idea that the best thing you can possibly do is own a home. ‘We’re going to turn generation rent into generation buy’, declared Cameron last year in a terrifying Thatcherite echo, despite Shelter’s assertion that 58% of new ‘affordable housing’ will be unaffordable for families on average incomes in 2020. Cuncrete is about tracing these lines back – through 60s idealism to right to buy to rampant capitalism. I’m not interested in giving people a history lesson, or telling them what to think, but I’d like to think that we offer up some questions on how we got here, and why it’s a problem.
Cuncrete is a show about uneasy feelings in the pit of my stomach. About things I can’t quite bring myself to accept. About grey spaces and the impenetrable fortress of our political system. It’s designed to be a salve – a space to be angry and also a space to celebrate, to laugh at, the absurdity of the world. Because, the thing is, Archie thinks it’s all ok. And that basically means we’re fucked.
Featured photo by Paul Samuel White
Cuncrete, by Rachael Clerke & The Great White Males, is at Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe, 3-26 August 2016. See www.summerhall.co.uk
Tickets can be booked at www.edfringe.com