In Adam Scott-Rowley’s This Is Not Culturally Significant, a kaleidoscope of characters lay bare their foibles, desires and vulnerabilities. It's a confrontational one-man show, performed entirely in the nude. But it is almost impossible to discuss the experience of seeing it without considering the impact of its scheduling.
It has 15 performances over a 27-day festival, 11 of which are on Friday to Sunday nights – at 11:45pm. It is clearly being sold as late-night fare, and there’s a slightly frenzied, titillated atmosphere in the air as we queue. And I’ll accept my share in that; it seemed an amusing thing to be doing late on a Friday night. It’s also in a pretty huge auditorium for a Fringe show. This is not intimate, it’s a spectacle.
And that impacts the performance. What is getting the laughs? A man pretending to be a woman simulating sex, a man wanking, the phrase “sad lesbians” – oh, and look at his willy bounce about as he runs across the stage. Of course, even when a show takes on serious topics, humour is inevitable and welcome. But here, it’s only jokes of the cheapest variety that are selling. At one point Scott-Rowley enters a raspberry-blowing contest with the audience; it feels like I’m watching Mr Bean.
There are sympathetic moments, broken and suffering characters: a man with drug problems who’s lost everything and is abused by the police, a lonely woman lost without her partner. But here they’re exposed to ridicule. Maybe that’s the point? Despite their isolation or exclusion, there appears to be little sympathy even from the writer’s perspective; the father waiting years for his porn-worker daughter to get in touch is mocked as a hillbilly dullard. The most sympathetic character is a woman trapped in an abusive relationship – then there’s an accusation tossed at her that, if true, changes our perception entirely. But it doesn’t go anywhere. It appears to have just been thrown in for shock value.
To perform naked is clearly a big artistic statement – perhaps especially for a man, as the sighting of a penis on stage remains very rare. As such, it is is highly exposing, and emphasizes the vulnerability of the characters (though that effect is somewhat undermined by the evident body confidence of the performer). You would anticipate this vulnerability eliciting sympathy and empathy in a more intimate setting; in this arena, it becomes a freak show.
In fact, I think all of these issues would be of less concern if the performance was in a smaller venue in front of a sober audience. Maybe that’s where this show started out; maybe this is the consequence of that success, the chance to play to bigger crowds and make a few quid. But what we're left with doesn’t work.
This is not culturally significant. I doubt anyone leaving the auditorium giggling will feel differently about the world tomorrow, except that they’ll have a funny anecdote about seeing a man prance around in the altogether.