As a tribute to her late friend Nigel Charnock, whose Stupid Men managed to irritate and provoke many, Wendy Houstoun has taken to the stage to present her own response, titled Stupid Women. Hosted by Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Theatre on Friday 13 March 2015, this performance powerfully presented an opportunity for viewers to think for themselves, thanks to its ambiguity and non-linear narrative. As part of Dance4’s biennial Nottdance Festival, Houstoun’s piece also brought a level of boundary-breaking improvisation all her own to Nottingham, and left audience members questioning various societal issues in the process. The somewhat chaotic activity on stage never once left you behind, though.
Once inside the auditorium, you immediately noticed a peculiar sensation that everything was perhaps a little mishap and unfinished. The stage area was open, and the boundary between performer and audience members seemed almost non-existent. It was like feeling you’d just accidentally walked into a tech rehearsal, and nobody had bothered to ask you to leave. So you take a seat, and wait as the performers dart across the stage. Supposedly, they carry out tasks and prepare for the show, not noticing the seats beginning to fill and the hum of conversation growing around them.
Then eventually Houstoun moseys in, introducing herself and the cast informally, making modest comments about how the show will turn out, and making light of the survey sheet we had just been given as we entered. Subtly she suggested that we review it well, which sparked an ice-breaking outburst of laughter. So it was clear right from the very start that this was a performance that was going to push the limits of what is the expected norm.
But at the same time both performers and viewers are united in an experience which explores and celebrates the fundamental things that we all experience in life. We are constantly involved in the action too, as Houstoun regularly beckons us for prompting and suggestions. Particularly during the mid-show crisis, where we are asked if there is anything we feel “the evening is missing.” This really was a great bit of showmanship, because it really engaged you and made you feel responsible for the route the show took.
An array of disorganised lighting sequences and confused facial expressions also adds to the sense of uncertainty that fuels much of the performance’s comedy. But all the while there is that sense of determination and hope to succeed, which we detect from the energy channelled by each performer. So you almost feel guilty for laughing – and all credit goes to the cast for achieving this effect.
Stupid Women therefore elegantly combines idiocy with genius. We are ingeniously made to question whether art needs a rational structure in order to spark thought, as it is often the performance’s confusion which forces us to think for ourselves. Active thinking is also a key issue. Stupid Women asks: have we been organised, edited and cropped to such an extent that we have finally ceased to think for ourselves? Perhaps. So maybe Stupid Women is exactly the sort of thing Nottingham needs to prevent us from being spoon-fed the ideas and opinions of others?