Writer: Rachael Young
Directorial Collaboration: Nadia Latif
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Compared to 30 years ago, it feels as though the position of women is slowly eroding. Where once Melanie Griffiths was learning to trust the fire in her belly, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlinson and Jane Fonda were creating the perfect office with flexible working and equal pay, and Grace Jones was redefining everything, now women are back to being portrayed in popular culture as victims or princesses. What happened to the equality and strength that seemed to be the future?
Rachael Young’s performance art show Nightclubbing takes Jones as her inspiration to explore the parallel experiences of her hero and three young black women in 2015 who are refused entry into a nightclub based on the (male) manager’s preconceptions about the people he wants to let in. While Jones finds creative freedom and fame in 1980s Europe, the modern girls barely question the distrust and suspicion that have been a permanent feature of their lives.
Nightclubbing is an abstract piece that uses music, movement, performance poetry and monologue to primarily pay tribute to the equally bizarre stagecraft of Grace Jones. It opens with Young emerging from what appears to be a mound of black bags becoming a full skirt in which she poses and postures like her idol creating some memorable stage images, all to a heavy beat supplied by musicians Mwen Rukandema and Leisha Thomas.
From this point on, the show becomes fairly unpredictable as extracts of Jones’ biography describe her early childhood in Jamaica, through New York to Paris, compared to the one night in 2015 when the three women queue for entry at the nightclub. There is a hula hooping section in which Young apologises for all manner of things she can’t control, mocking the kind of bigoted views that pigeonhole people based on skin colour or having a chip on her shoulder, while later in the show she creates a Jones-inspired dress and hood by building-up coils of rope.
Nightclubbingasks the audience to do a lot of the work, making associations between the various aspects of the show and the points Young wishes to make about race and gender in the twenty-first century. While Young’s love of Jones is clear and infuses the entire show, even the title, its less clear how Young envisions an alternative future, and instead seems to celebrate the recent past in which the lot of women seemed much more positive.
We learn very little about the modern women turned away from the club and, crucially, why Young thinks that the position of strength has deteriorated since the 1980s. Unarguably the rise of social media and the reactionary political views that led to Brexit have had a significant role to play in the way people judge, troll and fearmonger online, so Nightclubbingcould say considerably more about the burden for women without the fame and protection that Jones was afforded.
Rukandema and Thomas’ music creates a varied beat for Young to respond to, mixing a headache-inducing cacophony of sound that thuds and shakes the room, threatening to overwhelm, but balanced with softer beats that vary the tone and intensity. At only 45 minutes, Nightclubbing is certainly odd, and while Young is clearly passionate about changing the political position of women, with the show’s final piece celebrating the rich possibilities associated with the word black, it is the tribute to the eclectic style and influence of Grace Jones that dominates. Perhaps there is space to say more about what the future should be.
Runs until: 12 May 2018 | Image: Marcus Hessenberg