Sunday 21 August 2011

Capitalism is collusion

Doris Day Can Fuck Off, Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Greg McLaren will tell you that this one-hour oddity is all about communication and miscommunication. It’s best not to entirely believe him, no matter how true it rings. Essentially, McLaren is distracting us with a glove puppet the better to slap us in the face.

McLaren spent a month singing instead of speaking, just as they do in Doris Day musicals, recording every encounter on his trusty lapel microphone. That decision makes him a social pariah: people stare at him or walk away, unable to make head nor tail of him. He loses his job, irritates his own theatre company and struggles to get a straight answer out of anyone. Occasionally, someone sings back to him, like the shop-owner who had sold him dodgy batteries or the station attendant who tells him to step outside the city walls to avoid an ASBO.

Ostensibly, McLaren asks what’s so strange about singing. What’s so disarming about stepping outside of ‘normal’ behaviour? We’ve always done it and it’s not harmful in itself. If anything, it’s more expressive: ‘A word,’ he hollers, ‘is not a feeling’. Perhaps it’s also more human, a unique quirk of evolution traded for the ability to swallow and breathe at the same time. Just like our brains, we’re using less than 10% of our vocal range, even though, like the car park attendant whose speech McLaren loops into a rap, we’re singing more than we like to think.

It’s a haphazardly structured, rather bonkers, performance lecture. McLaren, an ever-engaging oddity of a performer, hops clunkily from one thing to the next, as if proudly presenting a drawer of miscellaneous objects. Beneath the surface, however, it’s a lot tighter than it lets on. Doris Day Can Fuck Off is less concerned with the lower larynx than with cash and capitalism. Almost every encounter McLaren replays revolves around money: from the initial lost job that cost him £1000, through Big Issue vendors, to awkward attempts at busking.

McLaren’s singing is as subversive as living without cash; it bucks the system and questions our conformity to social norms. His invocations of billionaire recording artists – blessed with money-spinning singing voices – point to the inbuilt inequality of capitalism. A snap of Doris Day kicks in: ‘The rich get richer and the poor get poorer’. Songs exploit, making money by telling us what we want to hear, wrapped in tidy, rhyming sentiment, rather than anything honest and heartfelt. Capitalism, McLaren suggests, is a collusion.

By asking us to listen to how, rather than what, he communicates, McLaren sneaks his point in unnoticed, like finely chopped vegetables hidden in a Bolognese sauce. It’s not far off subliminal messaging, entertaining his audience but leaving something to niggle away beneath the surface. Never to confirm it as such is a seriously brave artistic choice.


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