Yep, Lucy’s back, and the triple threat is intact: she sings, she dances, she acts as if born in a trunk to the side of a vaudeville stage; caustically camp, using popular entertainment mores and memes as a sledgehammer to demolish expectations of the female performer on stage. And once again she has a brace of buff boy dancers, Samir Kennedy and Rhys Hollis, to back her (up) – ‘artists in their own right’ she says (the joke in her earlier show, Triple Threat, is repeated in Post Popular) – just not tonight, because it’s Lucy’s show. And boy, oh boy you better believe it and know your place. There’s bump and grind, smut and grime, and of course no fourth wall – we are in Music Hall mode, essentially.
But why ‘post popular’? Perhaps because, this one takes all the things set up in Triple Threat and twists or subverts or stretches them into something that is most definitely beyond popular entertainment. Post popular. You think this is going to be just a fun night out? Think again. Triple Threat (which tackles The New Testament with blasphemous hilarity) is borderline: you could go along with a group of drunken mates and enjoy it all as a good laugh, although there is depth and thoughtfulness for those who want it. Post Popular pushes beyond that entertainment borderline into something darker. You laugh, but then the laughter freezes in your throat, leaving you feeling disturbed, uneasy. There are whole sections (particularly in the mock-interval scene) where the onstage Lucy persona looks forlorn, abandoned, vulnerable.
Our expectations are constantly pre-empted and usurped. We’re expecting a naked Lucy, we get a tacky ‘flesh’ coloured bodysuit with tits and fanny drawn on in black felt tip, somehow reminiscent of a costume from a Forced Entertainment show. And Forced Ents are a good point of reference for much of this show, which in some ways is closer to the work of Lucy’s previous company, GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN than it is to Triple Threat, despite the superficial similarities of the two shows. There is more Forced Ents-ness in the absurd Penguin wrapper jokes; the bloody mess of the stage; the dead pantomime horse that just lies there for a whole scene.
Following on from the infamous Doubting Thomas (a finger in every orifice) scene in the earlier show, which was built up to with ever-more outrageous moments, we get full-on rimming here in the first five minutes. It just happens all of a sudden, thrown away, almost, to get it over and done with. There, she seems to say – I’ve done what you’ve expected me to do. Now what?
Historical re-enactments being her thing, as she claims at the beginning of the show, we leave behind the New Testament to instead learn all about the famous women in history. All four of them: Eve, who screwed up the whole world (back to the bible, then); Boudicca, who you can’t really ignore as she’s Rule Brittania personified, perfect for these Brexit obsessed days; Florence Nightingale, who is famous for giving herself selflessly to the care of others; and Anne Boleyn, who is famous for dying. Yep, that’s women for you! She muses on whether the Suffragettes should be included, but gives up on that.
The audience have a crucial role to play – as the marauding Roman army, say, Lucy clambering over us, screeching and waving an axe, to the sound of Metallica cranked up to maximum volume. Or as Anne Boleyn’s accusers – given a mic, audience members play along happily: ‘You’re a slag and you deserve to die’ ‘Fucking whore!’ ‘Just die, right now, we hate you.’ Yep, you don’t need me to say anything further… Lucy and her boys are all clad in black full-head hoods, and with the aid of a couple of bottles of tomato ketchup, she enacts a very gory demise for poor Anne, who obviously asked for it. Here, as elsewhere, the Karaoke choices are excellent – The Sheryl Crow arrangement of ‘First Cut is the Deepest’ morphing into Basement Jaxx’s ‘Where’s Your Head At?’.
And the dance routines are as sassy as ever – the Eve, Adam and Serpent scene could easily have come out of the earlier show, with its rhythmic thrusts and spot-on choreography of stamping feet (all three clad in superb thigh-high patent leather boots) and apple smashing. But this is the beginning of the show, and by the time we’re on Florence Nightingale, we’re getting a truly disturbing playing out of female pain, Lucy’s fits of screaming – ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s WRONG with me?’ – moving from melodramatic ‘hysterical’ to truly tortuous and unsettling horror. Laugh? I almost died.
The ending brings us back to alternative cabaret mode with a fabulous rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ replete with a delightfully unsubtle reference to the Hanky Panky trick made famous by the show’s director, Ursula Martinez. Look inside and you’ll find a hero lies in you…
Despite the upbeat ending, I leave feeling discombobulated – a bit woozy, unsettled, with a nasty taste in my mouth. It’s a show I don’t love in the viewing, but the more I think about it afterwards, the more I like it.
Funny peculiar, rather than funny ha ha (although that too, in parts). Genuinely shocking, but not for the obvious reasons. A very clever piece of work.
Featured image(top): Lucy McCormick: Post Popular. Photo Holly Revell
Lucy McCormick’s Post Popular plays an extended run at Soho Theatre 3 – 14 Dec 2019, and again 10 – 22 Feb 2020
Commissioned by The Marlborough Theatre, Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts and Soho Theatre with funding from Arts Council England and support from Outburst Queer Arts Festival