Life has given Australian performance artist Bron Batten what she calls ‘theatrical lemons’. Her show, first performed in 2011, was dealt a potentially devastating blow mere weeks ago when her elderly father (normally the piece’s second performer, who accompanies her to discuss their relationship and her career choice) decided he wouldn’t be able to make the 9000-mile journey to Edinburgh. She has, therefore, been forced to improvise, refashioning the show in her dad’s absence. The results, relievingly, have been impressive and added (one suspects) another layer to the show.
Batten also brings a commendable sense of variety to the piece: slide-show presentations, stand-up routines, interviews and even duets all sustain our interest
The piece is centred around Batten’s ongoing dialogue about her unconventional ( and un-lucrative) career choice with her baffled (if supportive) parents. “We thought it was just a phase”, her father states in a pre-recorded interview, “Twenty years, she’s still at it.” The disparity between their rather conservative criterion for ‘good art’ (her father bemoans all the shows that have him wondering “What the Dickens is going on?”) and Batten’s avant-garde pieces proves a highly fruitful comic resource as, with her tongue rather firmly in her cheek, she performs some of the greatest hits from her career: whether it’s writhing semi-naked on the floor covered in paint or appearing in the guise of a chicken foetus. These performances, however, are pitched intriguingly in between acts of defiance and of loving tribute: her parents are evidently intrigued by her work, even if they don’t understand it, and (at one point) she appears in a beaver costume for a high school play that her mother voices a particular affection for.
Batten also brings a commendable sense of variety to the piece: slide-show presentations, stand-up routines, interviews and even duets all sustain our interest. Batten’s affable, self-deprecating stage persona contributes a sense of easy informality which makes the audience relax into their frequent requirement for participation. The mixture of young and old within the audience meant that the cross-generational dialogue could involve the room at large.
That sense of universality carries across into the way in which the show has evolved since her father’s sudden departure. Batten casts a different old man to stand in for him: not an actor, but an ordinary Scottish bloke called Alan, squeezed into an ironic ‘World’s Best Dad’ T-shirt (note: other ersatz ‘dads’ will be participating throughout the run) who opens the show out to his own experience of life and fatherhood. This liberates the show from the confines of a specific family dynamic, so it becomes a piece about the condition of fathers and daughters generally. In that light, her career choice becomes a poignant metaphor for a whole variety of of intergenerational discussion, and for the process of working through conflicting value systems to discover mutual respect. A thoughtful and well-evolved piece; perhaps even one to take your parents to.