Fringe Review: XXXO

by Jane

A good cry is something natural to indulge in. Sitting on the cusp of sad mood, it can feel good to let into those feelings and find the trigger which will make it all come out. The sad movie you’ve seen a dozen times. The sad song you can play on repeat for an hour.

Some things that have made me cry recently:

This song and performance:

This film:

This script:

These books:

This photograph:

Eddie by Rosemary Laing

XXXO is about the act of crying. Wallowing in your own emotional baggage, taking on the emotional baggage of someone else, or, ever so occasionally, weeping for joy. A news story, a movie, a play. Losing yourself into an emotional state, can’t breathe, can’t see for the tears, let it all out in a flood. I’ll be okay if only I can cry. Watch a film: be upset by someone else’s pain. Let mine out in the wash.

But XXXO is not about our own act of crying. It’s about the act of our performers crying. The act of our performers crying. Nathalie Verbeke and Charlotte De Bruyne spend the performance making themselves cry, and then documenting it with Photo Booth.

Verbeke and De Bruyne repeatedly bring themselves to tears throughout the hour. On their laptops, projected to the back of the stage, they flick through photos of themselves crying, movies, theatrical scripts, personal memories. It’s a bizarre concept: the want to document tears, pain, contrivance. Revisiting photographs of past tears and runny noses. It’s at once peculiar and familiar: the recognisable indulgence in tears, and yet to display this so publicly is unrecognisable.

As a construct of theatre making, XXXO is intriguing.  It displays the ultra-personal as the women revel in the act of crying: in the act of “ugly crying”, which beautiful actresses are often celebrated for achieving (Oh, isn’t she brave, voices murmur, prepared to make herself so ugly like that!). But this personal is always shaded by the incredibly impersonal – crying here is reached as an act of absolute performance. It is repetition. It is contrived. There is no story arch building to an emotional peak.  It’s all peak; which, of course, means there are no peaks.

As a wider work, it relies on several cultural markers which I just don’t possess.  I don’t think this was a particularly lost-in-translation-over-international-borders event; rather, for whatever reason, I missed the advent or impact of many of the films the pair rely on.

Things like Sex and the City were nerve a part of my cultural road map.  I first saw Titanic with a bunch of squealing pre-teenagers (myself included) collected on a bed at a sleepover. We were young enough to squirm at the kissing scenes.

In the end, I’m not sure if this is for the advantage or detriment of the piece. I suppose it just is the piece.  Through the whole performance, you are innately aware of the process of acting, both in the more “genuine” absorbing emotion and manipulation your feelings, and the trickery of a spray of water, the fumes of onions, vapour rub under the eyes.

Even when the work reveals the hint of the personal, as we’re shown the women’s writing about their true fears, we’re held aback: how much more genuine are these moments really? Surely they are but parts of the same performance.

Where the show is strongest is where strands build and refer to each other: as Verbeke and De Bruyne build their emotions with scenes of movies, and the clips on two screens roll and tumble against each other.  YouTube mash-up: the live edition.

Verbeke and De Bruyne act out these scenes from the movies as they play, building themselves into hysterics. Characters from one film meeting and melding into characters from the next.

In one moment the women re-enact a scene from Sex and the City  while the screen display a word document, saved in the file pathway XXXO/Things That Make Me Cry/Personal. In the document, is a confession: De Bruyne’s greatest fear about herself, and about what would happen if others found out, a fear referenced by the script they play out.  We’ve all had that moment in a theatre, while reading literature, while watching a soap, when something hits us in a particular way: I am not alone. These experience aren’t unique. Someone else has felt this too.

In the end, though XXXO is more interesting as an experiment and a concept for creating theatre than it is completely successful as a complete work. It’s not going to give you a big cry. It might, however, make you go home and watch videos of Bernadette Peters to make yourself cry.

Charlotte De Bruyne and Nathalie Verbeke supported by Ontroerend Goed and Richard Jordan productions present XXXO. At AC Arts until March 16. More information and tickets.