Our bodies are not challenged in the way our ancestors would have been used to. We no longer have to root for grubs or track antelope for days in order to feed ourselves and our families. Our figures are flabby and unfit for the kinds of exertion primitive man would have relied on to survive. So, we are comfortable. There is no need to stand erect and alert. We have it easy. The opening monologue of Harder Please is a plea to make the life of the protagonist harder: to challenge her body in ways almost masochistic. By doing this she might restore natural levels of physical suffering in a way that alleviates the ennui and atomisation of modern western existence.
It is the highlight of this piece; the way the evolved human body must respond to the habitat of modern city life is a fertile and important thinking-ground and Levey’s text is ambiguous enough to allow ideas to seed but never flower into the garishly obvious.
Levey then figures this idea through a metaphorical sexual fantasy involving David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Angela Merkel and a personified city of London, in which she is the willing passive receiver of their domination. A Buck Futt festival happens at Buckingham palace and 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin) is used as a sex toy by the attendees. Things become very bizarre and at times very, very funny.
However, Levey’s complex and wayward text, whilst generally original, is still relying on tired ways of expressing oppression: we’re being screwed by the state, screwed by our environment and screwed by the ConDems. This kind of rhetoric undermines some of Levey’s intelligent political comments.
Levey’s performance is convincing and contains the kind of sly humour necessary to untangle some of her webs of irony. However, much of the text gains little from actually being performed. Sometimes, it seems as if this piece were originally a piece of prose, brought onto the stage for reasons not quite thought through.
Such an unusual piece of drama defies normal kinds of recommendation. However, Harder Please is a provocative piece and Levey’s use of language is deliciously obscene (at one point she describes how she is ‘Kieving’ in her knickers: Wonderful.)
Perhaps this piece suffers from the difficulties it brings upon itself. Perhaps this is deliberate: the body of the artwork mimicking the body of its subject. Levey is right to suggest that it takes challenges to affirm our existence. This piece offers one that is unique, but without a stronger rhetorical core it cannot quite become the kind of essential experience desired by its protagonist.