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posted 29/01/2020

Review: Grayson Perry Live

Grayson Perry Us & Them @ State Theatre 16th January 2020
Reviewed by Paris Pompor

Arriving on stage for his Us & Them show in the most envy-inducing baby-blue clodhoppers Sydney has ever seen outside of Mardi Gras season, Turner-Prize winning potter, tapestry subverter and darling of the British contemporary art scene, Grayson Perry looked marvellous cross-dressed as his regular alter-ego, “Claire” tonight. Sporting a shapeless canary-yellow babydoll muumuu-style frock for Act 1 below a mop of hair in need of attention, the English writer, broadcaster and so much more, was instantly likeable and engaging on his debut Australian show. Since he isn’t one, thankfully there is none of the jaded, catty drag queen in Perry’s easy banter. Although, he did genuinely seem like he wanted to scratch the eyes out of certain people as he listed the sorts of folks who irk him by way of illustrating his own inbuilt prejudices. One such group are those who walk towards you with their full attention diverted from impending collision by a mobile phone screen. On that front, I think everyone assembled agreed it was perfectly sensible for “us” to dislike – even hate – “them”.

As for a myriad of other “us” and “them” tribes Perry attempted to divide the audience into, we were less united. By asking a number of multiple choice questions, to which the responses were tallied automatically through some kind of hand-held vote-casting controller provided to half the people seated in the State Theatre’s stalls, Perry did some broad profiling and gathered stats on those assembled. For those not in the stalls and therefore denied an electronic voting device, contentment was to be provided by watching those actually voting and then waiting for Perry and his large video screen to reveal the mostly-predictable results. Unfortunately, herein lay one of the stumbling blocks to the show. While tallying the votes was a fairly quick process, the questions seemed to go on and on, and were often mundane. “Are you university educated”? or “Which item do you like/hate the most”?  Sure, being presented with “lace curtains” as a choice for the second question is kinda funny, but the surveying became tiresome after a while, especially for the sizeable portion of the audience not voting. Without sharp or witty stories to punctuate the waiting, it was a bit like a date night where your newly-met swipe-right suggests you watch them fill in a public service application form as foreplay.

Elsewhere during the show, Perry did have some funny stories as well as telling/sobering facts to share, but not enough of them to dispel the feeling that when we reassembled for Act 2 after intermission, Perry would tie everything together in an earth-shattering – or at least revelatory – conclusion. That moment never really came. There was a good gag at the end about Brexit which finally made sense of the two flags – one featuring Stateside punk group The Ramones, the other a leafy design – which Perry had been at pains to continually refer to all night, running across the stage throughout and reminding us before night’s end we would be divided in our allegiances to one or the other. Apparently we were either gathered under the Ramones flag… (i.e. “Remains” camp) when it came to the European Union, or we identified more with those who voted to Leave (hence the “Leafs” on that flag). Get it? Yeah, but not quite the earth shattering pay-off you’re hoping for after two hours.

With only one costume change, a slide show of low-res images ripped unapologetically from Google searches, and a closing unexpected song, in the end Us & Them just wasn’t funny enough to be a great night of comedy, or insightful enough to be anything much deeper, even if it was largely enjoyable.

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