Art: Roll Up! Roll Up! ECT, Brainwashing, Discos! ; Got a Gay Pride Afterglow? Try Ursula Martinez's `Curing Homosexuality', Suggests Louise Gray
Gray, Louise, The Independent (London, England)
As thousands snaked through central London yesterday as part of the capital's annual Gay Pride march, Ursula Martinez - a writer and performance artist whose cabaret turns in gay and lesbian venues throughout Britain have earned her a cult following - was putting the finishing touches to her new audience-participation work. Curing Homosexuality may sound suspiciously like a Brian Souter wish- fulfillment. But it is as distant from that as from the self- consciousness of a gay world dominated by an consumer-driven vapidity.
Presented as part of the Nightbirds festival - if not an anti- gay gay response to the smug sense of self-congratulation that pervades events such as yesterday's Mardi Gras, then certainly a season that aims to put the art back in something that's become quite artless - Curing Homosexuality is a work of theatre that purposely blurs distinctions between fiction and reality.
It is set in the premises of a real clinic in south London. Members of the audience each have an appointment with a psychiatrist, before being sent off through a series of rooms for ECT, behaviour modification treatment and a heterosexual "seduction chamber" - the show is only open to gays and lesbians who have signed legal disclaimers. "Once they've survived these ordeals and are quite certain of their `gayness'," says Martinez, anticipating the piece's final twist, "they're sent off to Homo Heaven. This is a loud gay disco where no one talks to you and there's a horrendous drag queen asking, `Are you on the guest list?' The joke is that heaven is actually hellish."
And then, like the faint voice of Hope at the bottom of Pandora's box, shell-shocked visitors may hear quieter voices, in the form of interviews that Martinez made in gay bars. "I asked what it meant to be gay. All said it was not the be-all-and-end-all of existence."
Martinez, now 33, is aware that she speaks with the advantage of one whose own life as a lesbian benefits from the battles won by an older generation. But she also points out that increased tolerance makes it less necessary for gays and lesbians to construct fixed identities. "I just happen to be a person who sleeps with women, and gay culture doesn't seem relevant to my life," she says. "But I'm aware this comes from a privileged position of almost total acceptance within my family and the live arts scene ... that this privilege allows me a post-gay identity which I don't have to assert, because it's already accepted."
The real target of Curing Homosexuality concerns social conformity. As in A Family Outing, her self-scripted hit first seen at 1998's Edinburgh Festival, Martinez's main interest is conceptual: where does one locate oneself in the process of a performance? And when and where does that performance begin and end? …