Ursula Martinez performing in a white suit against a red curtain
Comedy, News, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

Brickbats and bouquets

Perth Festival review: Ursula Martinez, Free Admission ·
Studio Underground, February 14 ·
Review by Robert Housely ·

The art of bricklaying, typically, is practised by tanned alpha men in stubbies shorts and blue singlets on dusty building sites.

When a well-manicured gay woman with hair in a neat bun wearing a white business suit does it on stage, the stereotypical world order has been seriously disrupted.

Although this contradiction is extremely unlikely, it is possible, sometimes. Sometimes, anything can happen.

That is precisely the point of acclaimed UK experimental theatre maker and cabaret performer Ursula Martinez – a Perth Festival artist-in-residence – in this one of her several festival offerings.

The starting point for this Mark Whitelaw-directed show was her realisation that “the word sometimes reinforces the idea that there is no absolute truth … that life isn’t fixed … that we are all prone to contradiction and all capable of change.”

Her performance comprises a strategically entangled compendium of personal anecdotes and observations, many of which begin with the word “sometimes”.

All the while she uses small concrete blocks, a trowel and mortar to fill in a cut-away section of a partition wall between her and the audience.

Slowly but surely you see less and less of her as she gradually builds a wall which, in keeping with her intent, is a complete contradiction to her unabashed personal exposé.

Her anecdotes can be bawdy, are frequently topical and – whatever the subject matter – are often hilarious.

“Sometimes”, she says, “the world would be better without penises and religion; and I’m not saying get rid of penises.”

“Sometimes”, she says, “I get jealous of Catherine Tate because I once did a comedy show with her 20 years ago. Sometimes, I’m not ‘bovered’.”

She remembers racist childhood ditties from the 1970s, reciting them as though still in the schoolyard with friends.

She reveals her “obsession with having a clean bum hole” as though intimate personal hygiene was open to public debate.

She mentions her current divorce proceedings with ex-partner “princess mental case”.

Nothing is off the table in what is a smorgasbord of personal admissions.

Her command of multiple accents complements many of her stories whether parodying her Scottish sex-education teacher or channelling her Spanish mother, who has a propensity for “hitting the nail on the head”.

Some playful audience engagement and an outrageous finale contribute to making this thoroughly accessible show well worth the price of admission.

Free Admission is playing at the Studio Underground until  Feb 18.

Pictured top: Ursula Martinez trowels it on.

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News, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

Unforgettable

Perth Festival review: Ursula Martinez, A Family Outing– 20 Years On ·
State Theatre Centre Studio Underground, February 8 ·
Review by Mark Naglazas ·

When the advertising for a show features its creator and leading lady stark naked (albeit with pixelation in all the right places) and her co-star is her elderly mother, who has the beginnings of dementia, you brace yourself for an evening of confrontation and confession.

However, the marketing for A Family Outing – 20 Years On is the first of a series of marvellous rug pulls expertly executed by British LGBTQ diva Ursula Martinez as she toys with the audience’s expectations, so relentlessly that your lasting memory is of a show about putting on a show.

From the moment Martinez steps into the spotlight and explains she will screen a video of the earlier iteration of A Family Outing in which she sat on a “crappy sofa arguing with her mum and dad” through to the final stages when she provides her own review  of the new show (“a platform for marginalised communities” she boasts), this is meta-theatre at its most joyous, accessible and human.

However, the breezy, knockabout approach disguises Martinez’s deeper purpose – to examine the toll taken by the passing of time and, in particular, the impact of dementia.

Instead of dissecting the disease in a scientific and sociological sense, as is familiar in today’s fact-based narratives, Martinez uses the idea of a show that constantly meanders off-script as a wonderfully apt metaphor for the mind struggling to hang on to reality.

And by having the previous version of the show running in the background, in which we see Martinez and her Spanish-born mother Milagros and late father Albert Lee, we’re thrust into an echo chamber in which past and present become confused in the same way they must in a mind slipping away.

Milagros is a long way from being put into full-time care. She is a vivacious and funny stage presence as she fully engages with her daughter’s playful theatrics. “It’s really boring,” whines Milagros when Ursula leaves the stage to get a pen (yes, that’s about as dramatic as the action gets).

But a part of the fun of A Family Outing – 20 Years On is working out how much of the show is scripted and how much of it is improvised. When Ursula’s sister Facetimes in from the UK I wasn’t sure if it was live or if Martinez is so expert at playing casual that she’s turned a pre-recorded moment into something spontaneous-seeming.

Again, this slippage between scripted and improvised action, while commonplace in film and television, works perfectly as a metaphor for a mind struggling to remember the common script of humanity.

But it is not just Milagros who is battling to recall the facts of her own family history. Martinez is just as willing to poke gentle fun at her own mental decline, which she illustrates with a hilarious black-and-white home movie-ish recreation of how Milagros and Albert met and fell in love (a really cute story involving her teacher-father’s obsession with all things physics).

In every image of Milagros she is wearing a mantilla, a traditional Spanish lacy headdress. She’s wearing it while vacuuming, while going on a date and while lying in bed crying about Albert and begging her own mother for advice.

When Milagros sees herself dressed in something straight out Semana Santa in her southern Spanish homeland she gags. “I’ve never worn one of those in my life. I’ve never seen anyone wear one. I don’t think they’ve worn them since the 19th century,” scolds Milagros.

It’s this delightful struggle between two women who deeply love each other that is the heart of A Family Outing – 20 Years On. Can you imagine any other performer taking her mother on tour and putting her on stage so she can keep an eye on her? Or is that part of the show? Who cares. It’s funny and touching and, by the end, richly meaningful.

A Family Outing – 20 Years On is playing at the Theatre Underground until February 12.

Pictured top: Milagros  (left) and Ursula Martinez (right). Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

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Free Admission
Calendar, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Theatre

Theatre: Free Admission

14 – 18 February @ Studio Underground ·
Presented by Artist-In-Residence Ursula Martinez ·

In the current social media-obsessed climate of self-promotion, Olivier Award-winning performance provocateur Ursula Martinez is up on her dirty soapbox, baring her soul (and possibly more) in an attempt to understand the absurdity of modern living.

Free Admission sees Martinez building a real brick wall between herself and the audience, whilst revealing her innermost hopes, fears, frustrations, delights and disappointments.

Insightful and hilarious Free Admission celebrates the inconsistencies and contradictions that make us human, while having a dig at the mess that is of our own making.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission
Commissioned by Southbank Centre and Fierce Festival
Directed by Mark Whitelaw

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/free-admission

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A Family Outing
Calendar, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Theatre

Theatre: A Family Outing – 20 Years On

7 – 12 February @ Studio Underground ·
Presented by Artist-In-Residence Ursula Martinez ·

In 1998 Ursula Martinez took to the stage with her parents for the sublime A Family Outing. Now, 20 years later, she attempts to recreate the show without her dad and with a mother who can no longer remember her lines.

Absorbed in wryly honest and frank conversation, a mother and daughter expose the banalities, hilarity, foibles and frustrations of their relationship. Contrasting past and present, they bicker, cajole and encourage each other through this endearingly ad hoc, entertaining and ultimately uplifting performance.

Since A Family Outing originally premiered in 1998 Martinez has turned 50, her father has passed away and her mother has been diagnosed with early stage dementia. Through a canny interplay with the first production, this bracingly funny new show blurs the lines between artifice and reality while grappling with identity and the march of time.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission

Co-Commissioned by SICK Festival and Barbican Centre, London

Directed by Mark Whitelaw

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/family-outing

Pictured: A Family Outing

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