Review: Probe - Small Talk at Soho Theatre
Antonia Grove is a fascinating creature. With wide expressive eyes, a face that is both striking and full of character, and a rich vocal range; she could be the envy of many mainstream actresses of stage and screen. Her stage presence and obvious talent alone are almost enough to keep one transfixed throughout her solo piece Small Talk (Soho Theatre, ‘til Sat). But despite some intelligent material and promising moments, there seems to be an over-reliance on Grove’s charisma and the result comes across more nonchalant than experimental.
Grove wanders in from backstage before the house lights go down to putter about with some props at a dressing table upstage, takes a gulp from her drink and puts on a wig. She dons earphones and fiddles with her ipod, seeming either a bit nervous, or so casual that she could be about to leave us to go out for a jog. Instead she sits down centre stage and begins a sort of disembodied monologue into which she sprinkles some full body gestures; throwing back her arms with a gasp, whipping her head around, grasping her synthetic hair and giggling maniacally. These are like exaggerations of the nervous mannerisms a young woman might make during an interview. Indeed, it turns out that Grove is repeating verbatim – via her ipod earbuds – the text of interviews with movie actresses. If I’m not mistaken in this first section she was channelling one of the stars of the splatter horror film Hostel 2.
Director Wendy Houstoun has collaborated with Grove in walking a fine line here between theoretically generous critique and mockery. This is an interesting borderland to traverse and at times the productive potential of such an exploration shone through. An improbably heartfelt rendition of the Beyonce hit Crazy in Love near the end is such a moment; Grove’s performance contrasted honest pathos with pop song sensibility to moving effect. A few extended dance breaks were sloppily fun, mostly because we know what Grove is really capable of, given her accomplishments as a professional contemporary dancer. But since there was no build up that would warrant her totally wigging out (so to speak), and nor did she dance with skill, it was hard to see the point of these interludes.
Overall Small Talk seemed like a first draft, although it is apparently an expansion of a shorter work Houstoun and Grove developed previously. The device of the headphones may have been employed to give us a critical distance and this might have worked had Grove not been playing for laughs, self-consciously ‘performing’ the material instead of interrogating it ‘by way of’ her performance. In the programme notes Grove says that the actresses who are her ostensible subjects “are all me and they are not me.” But her once-removed delivery of these women’s words falls short of capturing the depth of dis-identification that this quote suggests. Instead it seems a bit harsh, presenting these b-movie starlets’ most superficial moments in a manner that is, well, superficial. I’d love to see the piece again with the transitions tightened up, the ipod discarded and Grove feeling her way through to the heart of these deceptively winsome women.
Continues at Soho Theatre til Sat 6 October
Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a New Yorker in London studying for a PhD in Aesthetic Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London.
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