With the infinite outreach of today’s media, we are slowly turning up the volume on progressive politics. With novels and films and Netflix series’ crafted for the newer generations and paving the pathway on a fresh lawn, much of today’s entertainment focuses dearly on breaking down our personal barriers that set us in a societal mould, exploring themes of identity to combat the conformity of the corporate and capitalist world. Industrialism is passé – individualism is in. Archetypal Outrage, however, takes a very risky approach to the very cliché idea, and does not quite reach its mark… or, alas, any mark.
Bringing her one-woman showcase to The Butterfly Club, hip-hop dancer Stephanie Harrison presents a spectrum of snippets of performance art in a condensed, erratic and electric spree. Promising an unapologetic exploration of “the parts of ourselves we suppress, hide or have a warped perception about”, Archetypal Outrage gives the allure of reclaiming personal empowerment in an artistic protest, but instead strings a hundred vignettes of thought and song that don’t quite line up or make a point. Harrison attempts to tackle the big themes in a variety of creative ways including beat poetry, rap, dance, song, caricature and audience involvement; and kudos to her for her courage in expression, for it is a feat to build a show on multiple forms of art. However, with a script that washes back and forth between structure and improvisation, and the potential nerve of opening night for her premiere, there are moments where the show falters and seems to skip a beat as Harrison stumbles over a line or forgets where to go next. Trimming the show by a third of its timeframe (whether accidentally or just due to a lack of content), Harrison’s autobiographical exhibition Archetypal Outrage does not commit to any exploration and only grazes upon the needed-to-be-had conversations with an uncomfortable tone and an awkward presence, contradicting much of the message behind the piece.
In the intimacy of The Butterfly Club, a cabaret would work perfectly. With minimal set required, minimal set was had: a piano stool and two microphone stands. Using each of these beacons as a platform for transitioning scene and character, Harrison switches between parts of herself that we all relate to and that, while we don’t deny as a part of our nature, we tend to neglect as a piece that makes up our whole and uninhibited self. For a show that braces the different creative styles, it definitely demands to be seen, heard and felt. With a lack of exploration of content, however, it is not seen, heard or felt in concurrence with Harrison’s expectations. Assuring to be a piece of loud and proud theatre, Harrison hits her mark with sharp gestures and snappy one-liners, but does not delve into any of the themes of the “take-down of the patriarchy” that it declares to do. Starting the show with a full-length ballad – a dead-pan face while seated on the stool with the lighting dim – the vibe of the space crashes to a downright low. Starting a show without energy and with self-expression is incredibly dangerous, especially as it is before we have engaged with Harrison and her intentions; and if one doesn’t immediately hook the energy back up after such an intro, the remainder of the show suffers the damage of dwelling in an tense limbo. These full-length ballads slip into the show’s infrastructure quite a few times, and although are very lovely synth pop tunes that would be perfect for a contemporary dance class, do not help progress the show, instead seemingly detracting from the flow of it. While The Butterfly Club is perfect for a cabaret, Archetypal Outrage does not quite advertise itself as one, but yet carries the conventions across without much conviction.
It is worth noting the moments of the show that were effective despite lacking the refinement. Outside of the consistent lull in the script, Harrison would launch into a spontaneous spiel of beat poetry, powerfully spraying the audience with sentiment on what it means to be an empowered woman in the 21st century. One particular recitation explores her perception on her body and how that dictates society’s treatment of her, probably being the pique of the show in its moment of glory. Harrison also manages to squeeze in her hip-hop abilities a few times with some incredible improvisational popping and locking in the very tight space, clenching her face as she tries to rip it off in the self-loathing that society has imprinted upon her. As they say: “If you can’t express it through acting, sing; if you can’t express it through singing, dance!” Harrison herself seems a formidable performer, immediately and precisely reworking the movement of her body to become a different thought, and different feeling, a different voice. Her facial expressions were something to be admired as she dynamically released the ideas from her mind. With uncapped energy, Harrison launches herself around the stage with an underlying confidence in her awkwardness, having a few moment of improvisation that were sparks of brilliance and hilarious in reaction.
The remaining noteworthy convention was that of her hyperbolic caricatures of self, splitting into and swapping between two personalities throughout the duration of the show outside of her usual Stephanie. While both were brilliant in their poise, posture and contrast, and were achieved easily through a micro-change of costume by donning glasses or removing a hairtie, this had missed an incredible opportunity of developing their relationship with one another; and due to neither of them really having a script or saying anything memorable, the convention seems to fall flat and again halt the progress of the script. There is no development of character: no reason as to why they are there, where they come from, what they influence in the main hub, what they can give the audience in terms of a message, and even having content to work with to make sure the laughs keep coming. One prime example was that of Stephanie’s gawky side who asks the audience what they see in their “other half”; this sets up what could have been an exploration of relationships and why we need an “other half”, but instead trails off and has no punchline, awkwardly moving into the next part and leaving the auditorium in an restless silence. As mentioned, this show would have definitely benefited from not being a cabaret, but rather developing the dialogue and role of these characters for full effect.
Unfortunately due to the choppy nature of the script and the loss of the plot for much of the show, the audio and lighting cues were often flickering on and off in an attempt to find itself. Although some of the lighting brilliantly articulated the natures of Harrison’s alter egos (with her party self having flashing colours and deep reds and even a disco ball at one point, whereas her gawky self took the stage in a plain wash), and the audio technology never crackled or whined in distraction, this show would have benefited from a bit more structure and a bit less variation of content, with direction helping lead into transitions rather than stopping and starting. If Harrison knuckles down and decides to redraft or workshop it further, I believe this could be one to watch in the future.
If you would like to support a work in progress, Archetypal Outrage may be the show for you. It would be worth Harrison really considering what she is trying to say with her piece and how to say it with clarity, consistency and depth. While needing much more time to find its own identity and filling its potholes, Harrison does leave us with one beautiful sentiment: that all of the things that are different about us, the things that we might not like about ourselves, are gold nuggets. Our individuality is our own, so embrace it. And she deserves to embrace hers. Amen, sister!