Performer: Ursula Martinez
Director: Mark Whitelaw
Reviewer: James Bartholomeusz
When we look back at the 2010s, what will we see as the defining characteristics of fourth-wave feminism? If the third-wave worked as a catalyst to dissolve the monolithic concept of Woman, asserting instead a series of intersecting ethnic, class and sexual identities, the revival of recent years has pushed this individualism still further. Most notably of all, fourth-wave feminism has coincided with another disorienting assault on social norms: the rise of social media. As David Mitchell recently observed in a radio series devoted to the subject, British society is now teetering dizzily with the effects of these cultural upheavals.
The changes are decidedly mixed. A society waking up to unresolved structural injustices is also experiencing a period of unprecedented egocentric, insecurity and atomisation. This is fertile territory for a wave of new social critics, among which Ursula Martinez stands out starkly (sometimes literally).
Martinez is no detached observer, passing judgement from on high; she is immersed in the social reality that is her subject-matter.Free Admissionis formed of a series of autobiographical anecdotes rather like short blog posts, humorous, angry and tragic observations on a range of topics from the performer’s parents to sex-education classes to the tyranny of Facebook updates. She is concerned with the boundaries that regulate acceptable behaviour, and especially acceptable speech, in a digital age, and this is evident in the witty and unexpected framing device that accompanies her monologue. Unlike so much contemporary stand-up, Martinez lines up with the likes of Mitchell and Stewart Lee in provoking reflection on both the medium itself and its social context.
As she notes several times in her monologue, Martinez severely divides opinion in unexpected ways: her conservative critics hail her as a fellow stalwart against the political correctness of the liberal establishment, while those with whom she shares political territory are often alienated by the abrasiveness of her humour. One is led to believe that this is, in fact, the point, for the cultural politics of laughter are far from clear. After the furore overBlurred LinesandBitch Better Have My Money, can we still claim to be laughing ‘ironically’ at sexist and racist jokes, even when they are put in the mouths of others? Martinez offers us no clear answers, but that ambiguity is not a little welcome when countless opinions of cast-iron certainty are available at the click of a button.
Runs until 20 February 2016 | Image: Contributed