Laura Murphy, Contra and Carré Magique present the stunning “A Spectacle of Herself” at Summerhall. Directed with assurance by the great Ursula Martinez and performed by savvy Laura Murphy herself this is an audacious sequence of scenes exploring the frontiers of mental health, queerness, rage and the 21st Century space race. All of which off an alternate vision of being a woman in the world and on stage.
Laura Murphy is a genre-defying queer performance maker from Bristol, who makes text-driven and dynamic physical performance about things that she thinks needs to be talked about. Challenging, intimate and spectacular, her work is a cross-disciplinary fusion of theatre, live art, circus, and verbal explosion.
Technology is both form and content and Murphy’s video project work throughout the show is both innovative, accessible, and artful. When it starts it does feel like we are in for some critical theory and that the show “may be good for us”. But fear not, autobiography collides with creative practice to create a gym for the mind and a feast for the eyes. The aerial work is stunning and the resonant images and journey from the opening images of a fully clothed body to that of the closing images of the naked body are potent.
Lived experience of autism, everyday sexism, violence, and abuse pepper the content. The lone male genius gets a poke. Using direct address, lip synch and karaoke, the work navigates the personal and political, to seek out new worlds and ways to be seen and question the status quo. To be honest, the karaoke scene didn’t work for me – I just didn’t get it but I do love Whitney Houston. The final message is “Fuck the Patriarchy.” This is not the kind of show you take mum and dad to on a Saturday night (maybe you should) but it goes a long way to filling the void between easily digestible mainstream feminist fare and powerful, empowering, and provocative work. It’s the kind of thing that stays with you.
It's a super short premiere season in Edinburgh. I predict you will catch it on the festival circuit around the world.
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Laura Murphy's one-person show is a kaleidoscopic mix of clowning, aerial rope, comedy and self-expression that manages to be direct and abstract all at once.
Laura Murphy's new one-person show, A Spectacle of Herself, is a wildly funny and deeply touching act of self-expression. Aerial rope, video projections, inventive captions, and a hoverboard come together to make a witty commentary that never feels too obvious or heavy-handed. Murphy's connection with the audience is easy and honest; it feels like a safe place to laugh.
The piece features all of the things I love the most: gender business, autism, horniness, clowns, and performance art that is brilliant in its stupidity. It's actually very reassuring to find that this extremely niche intersection is not at all a lonely place to be – in fact, horny, gay, trans, performance art clowns have appeared in this very magazine several times this month already. Exploring the mechanics of desire and consumption on her own body, Murphy performs a dazzling series of stunts, skits, tricks, and other unnameable weirdnesses.
The piece partially orbits a formative 90s TV advert in which heightened performances of gender provided a peek into euphoria for young Murphy. Murphy's account of first seeing the commercial is so direct, so evocative, that it feels like looking through a tiny porthole into her weird, wonderful brain. We get a glimpse of the euphoria this advert gives her; Murphy makes astounding shapes with her body and the aerial rope, turning gender euphoria into a death-defying stunt.
Murphy's script achieves a remarkable balance between direct and abstract, plain and inscrutable. It is a collection of personal stories and moments that express identity without commodifying it – the saliences in the piece aren't necessarily linked to being queer, trans, autistic, etc (for me, they are, of course); they speak to the experience of feeling different, of feeling behind, and of feeling lost at the end of the world.
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In A Spectacle Of Herself Laura Murphy slides the serious and the silly up against each other as she successfully weaves the philosophical, the personal and the political together into the mess they truly are.
Murphy is a charismatic performer drawing from clowning, parody, the world of Drag Kings, alongside aerial work and academic meditations of feminism, queerness, mental health, identity and neurodivergence. Whilst adding a sprinkling of horninesss levels matched by Fleabag, with a righteous celebration of the word cunt, echoing The Vagina Monologues.
The sections of aerial work are moments of true transcendence. These are captivating and charming, providing flashes of queer euphoria breaking through the backdrop of panic attacks, overstimulation and righteous rage against the world we live in.
Murphy has no time for people perceived as famous smart men, either in history or today featuring her parodies of Einstein and cunting Elon cunting Musk. Musk being particularly wince inducing. Providing an alternative to Musk’s idea of space, a space shaped inescapably by capitalism, masculinity and the patriarchy. Murphy provides a reclaimed erotic love for space, performed with tenderness.
The pacing of the piece is sadly a bit sporadic, at points I felt like I was waiting for a song to end rather than still enjoying the joke. To avoid spoilers I shall be vague but there was a point in the piece that rushed us towards a precipice and I was craving the jump and destruction and I felt I didn’t get it. This piece had the longest wait on a joke, for payoff that I have seen in a while and it was fantastic.
The performance has been carefully crafted, and the work to provide AV and captioning for almost all of Murphy’s speech should be commended. It is a serious leap for general accessibility.
Despite the academic trappings the piece's real clarion call is for us to get out of our anxious, rage-filled, heads for a bit and just be a body, to rave - despite the world around us.
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