Make sure you arrive at Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl a few minutes early; performer Jess Love is thrilled to offer you a coffee, a tea, or a biscuit in the queue. You’ll definitely want to be fully alert in order to keep up with her whip-sharp transitions. Once the show is on the road and everyone has refreshments, Jess begins to weave together the AA meeting at which we've joined her, her former circus acts, historical information about her notorious ancestor Julia Mullins, and re-enacted moments in her journey around the world through alcohol and drugs.
You’ll want to be fully alert to keep up with Love's whip-sharp transitions
As in most good art about addiction, Love brings the audience to the highest of heights and then crashes us down to the lowest of lows. In between a whirlwind introduction to her first experiences with various substances starting at the age of 10, and an explanation of the moment she knew she needed to get sober, her energy never dips – even when she implores an audience member handed an AA text to read “Slowly! Slowly.” After all, how many of us can say we can skip rope for the entire length of time it takes to read Julia Mullins’ lengthy CV of convictions and sentences?Her circus acts, including a bit as a bored hula hooper, and a balance beam made of champagne bottles, have burlesque influence. They are interspersed with confessional monologues, footage of an Australian historian speaking about Mullins, and movement pieces depicting her previous drunken existence.
This last category is deeply, almost alarmingly powerful. Love acts the part distressingly well, and it hurts to watch after a while. She climbs through the audience, calling to mind the blackout drunks we have all encountered in crowded bars, and bringing the un-sexy, un-funny face of alcoholism very, very close to home both literally and figuratively. This section, which leads up to a “drunken” trapeze act so convincing it’s scary, and the conclusion of the show, is even harder to watch in a post-Nanette world. If you haven’t watched fellow-Australian Hannah Gadsby’s recent Netflix comedy special, which posits that commodifying trauma in the form of art can hurt more than heal, you absolutely should. The rawness of the pain that Love channels is intense and balances the humour of the rest of the piece in a way that brings home how damaging this disease really is.
Love is clearly an expert at connecting with people and it is this skill that weaves together all the disparate things she brings to this performance. A member of the audience actually hugged her as we were shuffling out of the theatre. It’s that feeling of connection that we all crave, and that feeling which is the true takeaway of a very special evening.