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13° & CLOUDY ON FRIDAY 15 NOVEMBER IN MELBOURNE
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Madonna Arms – I’m Trying To Kiss You

We're not sure whether this is a hot mess or sheer magnificence. It's probably a bit of both.
By Nick Spunde
May 05, 2014
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Madonna Arms – I’m Trying To Kiss You

We're not sure whether this is a hot mess or sheer magnificence. It's probably a bit of both.
By Nick Spunde
May 05, 2014
  shares

The audience waits in the cavernous dark of the Meat Market theatre, while portentous music plays and spotlights rake the stage. Madonna Arms is coming. The music builds. The audience wait. The music keeps building. The audience keep waiting.

This goes on for a while. It goes on so long it becomes funny, then even longer until it stops being funny, then keeps going until it becomes funny again. Whatever is about to start, there is no way it can justify this much buildup. Which is of course the gag. From the very beginning Madonna Arms embodies the overblown but hollow hype of modern pop culture.

Performed by experimental feminist theatre company I’m Trying To Kiss You, the show is a chaotic satire. Three performers — Zoey Dawson, Anna McCarthy and Ella Harvey — work together like a well-oiled machine to turn out oddball scenarios playing with media representations of gender. Surrounded by screens which, courtesy of an on-stage green screen, show them against digital backdrops, the energetic trio create scenes that seem to come from a media hyper-reality: a reality TV show that appears to be shot on a space station, a film clip portraying a medieval battle march, and an alien invasion action movie.

The structure is essentially that of a sketch show, with some callbacks but no underlying narrative connecting the sequences. Narrative is not remotely necessary, in fact the lack of it is central to the show. Madonna Arms is a portrayal of style without substance, the grandiose presentation of trivia, hyperbolic charade and false empowerment.

The overall effect is like flipping through late night cable television in a foreign country. It's never quite fully comprehensible, it's frequently furiously odd but it is endlessly fascinating nonetheless. I don’t know if what I’m watching is a hot mess or sheer magnificence. It's probably a bit of both.

One thing that does get a bit much is all the talk about sex, of which there is an awful lot. While it's clearly the intent of the show to satirise a media obsession with sex, there’s only so much talk about orifices, penises and bodily fluids you can listen to before it gets tiresome. The show works best when the performers are simply having fun and playing the satire at fever pitch. When it falters is when it's self consciously trying to be controversial or in-your-face.

While not everything this show throws at the wall sticks, it is nonetheless quite an experience to watch it all being thrown. There is a determined shake-your-fist-at-the-mainstream spunk to it all that makes it strangely irresistible. Saturated in pop culture references, crass for the sheer love of being crass, at once outrageously silly and charged with impassioned politics — this is exactly the kind of thing young performers should be doing with their time.  Going to see it and feeling equal parts baffled, amused, affronted and inspired is exactly what you should be doing with yours.

This show is running as part of Next Wave 2014. For more events at the festival, check out our top ten picks.

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