Ruff, A Peggy Shaw Solo Performance at Bristol Old Vic Theatre part of Mayfest, was essentially like being in Shaw’s head for an hour and 10 minutes. Having recently had a stroke, the show explored the affect it had on her, both as a performer but also as a person off stage.
The show was very personal, using autobiographical details to tell a story of the moment the stroke hit, as well as snippets of her life to date. All of which were cut and pasted together in a haphazard, yet somehow purposeful way. All of which created a unique insight in to her mind. Not forgetting, Shaw was keen to point out, that the mind is different to the brain, the mind doesn’t show up on an MRI scan.
Exploring complex issues; being gay in the 50’s, gender, age, what it means to be a stroke victim. At times possessing a poetic ease, at other times, an awkward husky stumble. All set against a strong rhythm, helped along by music, a drum beat provided by her ‘band’, or just a song that came from nowhere.
The staging was simple; a green screen, on to which the ‘band’ and other images were projected. Three monitors; two at head hight, one down low. And a simple office chair on wheels. The monitors were used because she is no longer able to remember a whole show. At times the monitors were turned round and other images were displayed on to them, after returning back to the script. Often the screen would still be facing the audience at this point, causing the audience to glance at the text. I don’t know if this was deliberate or not but I drew my own conclusion as to what it meant to see the discrepancy between what Shaw had written in the script, and what she actually said.
One or two other parts that were not quite as tight as they could have been, I was able to forgive. It was an experience to see this person and consider the implications such a ‘condition’ (NHS terminology) can cause. To reflect on the adjustments she has made in order to still perform. Although now she is without the additional support from other people who were inhabiting her mind before the stroke.
The one thing that I did not like, was the public service announcement. Using the NHS ad campaign for strokes and turning it in to a rock song. The concept was good, but in reality I didn’t feel that it sat as naturally with the other elements of the show.
Peggy as a performer is engaging and funny, and this came through very naturally in the performance. I would certainly see more of her work, if I am afforded the luxury.
Mayfest continues until Sunday 25th May.