Zoë Coombs Marr – Wild Bore is 'a magnificent stew of obscene incompetence'
- Claire Sawers
- 14 July 2017
This article is from 2017
The relationship between critic and performer is often a fraught one, as this threesome explore by using their own bitter experiences of bad reviews to create a thoroughly meta theatrical show
'Feminazi'. 'Killjoy'. 'Silly girl'. 'Not good mother material'. You can almost hear the massive eyeroll as Adrienne Truscott, Zoë Coombs Marr and Ursula Martinez scroll back through a list of bad things they've read about themselves in reviews. Luckily though, these three aren't the kind of women who'd let harsh words from critics burst their bubbles. Instead, they've dismantled all the misogyny, the snark, the conservatism, the lazy journalism and, as Truscott puts it, 'the stuff that's so livid, it just reaches a level of mind-boggling deliciousness', and built a theatre show out of it.
Wild Bore is their exploration of the relationship between performer and critic, a thing they know is essential and symbiotic, but also full of daft, dysfunctional and darkly funny bits. 'We started seeing patterns in the way we were reviewed,' says Coombs Marr, the Australian comedian whose Edinburgh Fringe hits Dave and Trigger Warning focus on stand-up's sexist side. 'There was often this lack of engagement, this failure to watch or try and think about ideas that might be unfamiliar. And usually a lack of benefit of doubt that we'd be given. Reading some of those visceral, sometimes hilarious bad reviews, we realised we had this rich source of language and discourse to play with.'
So they took the best clichés, the most personal insults and the bluntest put-downs and used them as the script for their show, a very meta critique of the reviewing game … complete with bared arses. 'It's intentionally terrible,' says Coombs Marr, who took her love of leg-pulling to an extreme last year when she (a lesbian in a long-term relationship with writer Kate Jinx) married gay comedian Rhys Nicholson in a pro-queer stunt about inclusivity, making her feelings known over Australia's anti same-sex marriage stance. 'We've written a magnificent stew of obscene incompetence. Wild Bore is like watching a bad review unfold onstage in a series of visual metaphors,' she says, over Skype from Melbourne where they're giving the show its final rehearsals before opening night, and unaware that a couple of days later it'll get a five-star review from the Australian Guardian.
The reviewer called it 'truly, outrageously funny', and 'the rally for supported, considered writing that we critics need'. If that last line seems a bit obsequious, the writer did also type, possibly with slightly trembling hands, 'there is nothing like watching your profession be torn apart for an hour to make you question every single choice you make.'
The show isn't just about trashing reviewers though; it's more sophisticated and smart than that, hopes Adrienne Truscott, the New York dancer and comedian who's probably best known at the Fringe for her 2013 knickers-off, one-woman show about rape, Asking for It. 'The art of criticism is really important, to audiences and performers. When I got great reviews for Asking for It, they were so deeply satisfying … I almost can't describe it. Then I came back the following year with a sub-par show that wasn't quite ready, and it got panned. Some reviews were inaccurate, some were mean-spirited, but it felt shitty and cowardly not to publish them because I'd shared all the positive ones when I got hyped up for the first show.'
Truscott insists that she's a believer in the constructive side of bad reviews and an advocate of that cheesy corporate adage that feedback can be a gift. 'When they're really humiliating, they become a deeper learning experience. They get you working very hard. It's not that they're not painful, but you get to a point where you're secure and mature enough not to want to stay in your bath for a month after reading them.'
Audiences shouldn't expect some kind of saintly, magnanimous, learning curve of a show, though, as there's plenty room for a bit of reviewer-bashing. After years of flak coming in their direction, it'd be rude not to. 'For those reviewers who seem to take a deep pleasure in tearing something apart (and it's a particular type of male writer who comes at it from a misogynist place), it kind of reveals a lot more about them than it does about us,' says Truscott.
As more very positive reviews trickle in from writers either terrified of being quoted in an upcoming parody scene in the show, or just genuinely gushing about how much they like it, the trio are pleased they've produced something that's as politicised, boundary pushing and feminist as they'd intended. 'We've made some pretty bold choices for this one,' says Truscott. 'But this time, there's three of us. If we do get any bad reviews, we share a lot of camaraderie about critique and performance. We'll be backstage afterwards having a good whisky either way.'
Wild Bore, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, 9–27 Aug, various times, £21.50 (£9.50–£16.50). Preview 8 Aug, 10am, £15 (£9).