Underbelly Untapped has certainly lived up to its name with This Really Is Too Much, Gracefool Collective’s feminist foray in a first Fringe experience. The four performers, sat squarely onstage in black turtlenecks at the beginning of the play, stare at audience members mockingly as they enter. It’s confrontational, yet humorous – tantalising. We don’t know what we’re about to experience.
The next hour is hard to quantify – the four performers inhabit different roles, jumping from scenario to scenario without partition or hesitation. The stillness of the beginning of the show only highlights the anarchic chaos that comes later. Gracefool craft their arguments neatly, offensively and powerfully. They never feel the need to say anything explicitly – sentences are cut off, sequences interrupted. It’s liberating to feel as though you’re in dialogue, rather than be talked at.
It makes the show all the more effective. This is modern feminist issues depicted in modern theatrical forms. Physical sequences are delivered impeccably, floor acrobatics transformed into political statements (one character says she feels as though she’s in a much better position these days, while crouching low with another character standing on her back). Paper trails are physically laid out, trampled on. Different costumes and identities have to be shed, either for the sake of uniformity, or due to imposed nakedness.
One running motif is that the four actors are forced to strip down to their underwear and become models for random consumer products, every time a certain jingle blurts out from the speakers. They have to rush around, upsetting moments and scenes, disrupting the show’s flow. It’s a stark statement – if we want to be female performers then we have to be beach body ready at all times. The patriarchal structures in modern media have imposed these strictures.
But even for Gracefool, many elements of modern feminism have become, in a sense, a performance. You have to read from the right script, deliver the lines in the right way, in the right costume. Your audience will always want to look at the most interesting thing in front of them. They are coy and disloyal. If you deviate, if a plurality of voices emerge, then it is seen as a sign of chaos rather than a reflection of multi-faceted movement. It’s unjust, and the company’s frustration is explicit and charged.
The show is by no means perfect – the energy in the middle section flagged somewhat, before finally coming round to a more rousing conclusion. But for the most part This Really Is Too Much is a storming tract and a masterful piece of modern theatre – Gracefool Collective are, for whatever my salt is worth, a company worth watching.