Last time British performer Juliette Burton appeared in this blog, she was heading from Adelaide to Melbourne. Now she has arrived. I talked to her via Skype this morning in an English-themed bar with Frankie Lowe, her composer-sound technician-cameraman.
“When we arrived in Melbourne,” Juliette told me, “we went to a restaurant and someone working there was from Edinburgh. He’s going back in May, so I told him Oh! You’ve got to come and see my new Edinburgh Fringe show in August; I’m writing it with Janey Godley! So I’ve started promoting it already!”
“I’m performing When I Grow Up at the Trade Hall in Melbourne from Thursday onwards,” she told me, “and there’s a huge poster on the side of the building. My name is listed just above Kevin Bridges. So I’m currently ‘on top of Kevin Bridges’ and I’m very happy about that position. I’m wearing a tartan skirt.”
There was a piece in The Scotsman today,” I said, “which reckons a 5% swing would mean a Yes vote for Scottish independence in September. The Fringe in August is going to be full of references to the Scottish independence vote in September.”
“Well, Look At Me is not going to have much about Scottish independence!” laughed Juliet. “Just independence from the voices in my head, maybe. We arrived in Melbourne last Thursday and I’m not performing When I Grow Up until this coming Thursday so, every single day, I’ve been able to get up and think about the new show.”
“And Look At Me is about…” I prompted.
“It’s about whether who we appear to be is who we actually are – and whether we can change who we are on the inside by changing who we appear to be on the outside.”
I usually hate video clips dropped into live stage shows but, in When I Grow Up, Juliette managed to integrate and interact with them flawlessly. She is also using extensive video clips in Look At Me.
“All the ones I’m going to use in the Look At Me,” she told me, “I shot before I left for Australia. Frankie is sitting here in this bar transcribing the video interviews and I’ve been highlighting them, trying to get ready for the edit.
“And then, as soon as I get back to the UK in May, I’m going to be working with the prosthetic make-up artist to film all the days when I’ll be transformed into different guises. There will be a Lady Gaga-esque day; a day when I will be transformed into a man; there will be an ‘old’ day, an ‘obese’ day, the hijab day and the ‘nude’ day.”
“Ah!” I said. “the nude day.”
“This Wednesday in Melbourne,” Juliette told me, “I’m going to be meeting Gypsy Wood, who is an amazing burlesque performer out here. She is going to talk to me about my nude performance for Mat Fraser at Sleaze, the erotica night he runs in London. I’m going to be performing there on 4th June. That’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.
“It’s not really going to be a burlesque performance. I don’t know what to call it. Mat Fraser has kind-of erotica pieces. It’s not quite that; it’s not quite theatre. It’s been quite a difficult thing to start doing. That bit of Look At Me is definitely not comedy.
“Frankie’s going to be composing a soundtrack for this 2-3 minute sequence of me stripping in defiance of The Voices in My Head – Society’s voice, my eating disorder voices, my body dysmorphic disorder voices – all the voices that tell me I’m wrong and bad and disgusting and my body’s not nice and not good enough. I’m going to be stripping to defy them and to spite them. So it’s not stripping for sex’s sake; it’s stripping for equality and… and… for independence,” Juliette laughed, “…for Scottish independence!”
“At the Edinburgh Fringe, you’re going to be performing at the Gilded Balloon,” I said.
“Yes. I had to decide if I was going to tick a box that said This Show Contains Nudity. I ticked the box that said it contains swearing, but not the one that said it contains nudity even though, in effect, it will do.”
“Defining nudity is an odd thing,” I said. “I watched Cliff Richard’s 1959 film Expresso Bongo the other night and it’s set in Soho with strippers involved. This is 1959, a fairly mainstream British film and full breasts were visible – only tassels on the nipples. It looked like some French sex film of the 1950s, but it was acceptable in suburban British cinemas in 1959. I guess back then you could see breasts provided the nipples were covered. Maybe if you saw a bit of nipple it was ‘nude’; but if you saw a naked breast with no nipple visible it was not ‘nude’.”
“Yes,” said Juliette, “if you have nipple tassels on it’s not really nude and if you have a c-string – the gusset of a g-string – then I don’t think that’s counted as fully-nude either. I’m going to have to do a lot of research to make sure I really am above-board. I guess it’s the tone, the intention that matters, like a lot of the things being discussed recently about comedy in the UK. It’s the intention of the words that are used. Whether it’s about rape or race. In any of those ‘taboo’ subjects, you have to be accountable. If you say something intelligently with the right intention, then I think anyone can surely artistically be allowed to do anything.
“It’s really important for me to take Look At Me to a crowd that’s under 18 years old – I want the message of the show to be about body confidence and celebrating body diversity in a way that will make people laugh and feel included and happy – I want to make sure the nudity that is included is not sexual or grotesque. It will be part of the over-all story of body celebration… That doesn’t sound very funny, but it’s going to be hilarious!… But I’m still terrified about the idea of me being nude… It’s going to be difficult.”
“I’ll post this blog today,” I told Juliette
“Me on top of Kevin Bridges is the most important thing,” she said.
“Ah,” I replied, “that’s your BBC News training coming out.”
(Juliette used to be a BBC broadcast journalist.)
“I do love a Reithian Lecture,” said Juliette.
“A Reithian lecher?” I asked.
“A Reithian Lecture,” Juliette said. “The Reithian ideals of the BBC are very important to me. I would love all my shows to adhere to them – to educate, inform and entertain all at the same time. That would be the ultimate goal.”
On YouTube, there is an 8-minute mini-documentary about one day in the shooting schedule for the Look At Me video interviews.