FK Alexander is nothing if not powerful. Though her M.O. is to play with her own vulnerability – she wears the scars and marks of self harm across her limbs – it takes enormous strength to hold an audience, as she did at last week’s performance at The Attenborough Centre, to make them deeply uncomfortable, and then to push them further. Thus the very experience of ‘Violence’, the show which rounded off the ‘Radical Softness season’ commissioned by the Marlborough Theatre, feels in itself an act of hostility towards the audience.
We begin with Alexander seated at a table with a bunch of flowers. Then, for the entirety of the recording of Skeeter Davis’s ‘The End of The World’, she proceeds to decapitate the blooms with a guillotine. So far, so obvious. What follows is rather more opaque: FK dons red stilettos and walks backwards across the stage, away from the audience, pointedly stamping the heel of each shoe as she does so, for what feels like ten minutes, while the words ‘mother…motherless…motherlessness…father…fatherless….fatherlessness’ flash on the screen behind her. A meditation on loss, on the state of aloneness, of being without loving relationships? Perhaps, but this is concept theatre too elusive to be easily ‘got’.
She moves back to the table, and repeats the first act, except with the song now slowed down, making the experience even more trying for the audience, painful to listen to, and dull. Yet the sheer nerve it takes to push through the audience’s own discomfort is in itself highly compelling, and Alexander has tremendous stage presence. We cannot take our eyes away, hoping for a spark of something different, some entertainment, some redemption. Her presence becomes increasingly ominous as we realise she is going to push us further into this discomfort, with the next section a repeat of the second, only backwards, and with her stiletto heels playing a louder, more complex and increasingly frantic tattoo against a single percussionist on bass drums.
“Protect me from what I want” goes the Jenny Holzer quote in the liner notes; it finally becomes clear this is a show which will not give the audience what it wants – it is almost taunting us with our own desire for narrative, beauty, a predictable morality; yet no-one leaves, or speaks; we cannot look away; it is as though we are trapped in a violent relationship to which we keep returning, hoping things will get better. It ends with the final rendition of the song slowed down an distorted beyond listenability, while Alexander beheads the last blooms. It is excruciating. Painful, tedious – and brilliant theatre art.