Don De Lillo’s mid-80’s novel ‘White Noise’ featured a married couple who were as happy as two people can be. Yet both had a distressing secret neither felt brave enough to share with the other; they were terrified of death.
I was reminded of this whilst watching Made in China’s ‘Super Duper Close Up’, an uncomfortable 80 minute, multimedia monologue – with star jumps – which crackles with existential dread. It also bears comparison with ‘Not I’, the Samuel Beckett short which takes place in near-total darkness, with only the performer’s despairing mouth visible. There’s a screen over the stage in ‘Super Duper Close Up’, and random close-ups of a lipstick covered female mouth punctuate the action. Towards the end, a video cameraman zooms in on the jaw of writer/performer Jessica Latowicki as she talks about leaving her mouth at the bar of a wedding she is attending. This is probably not a coincidence. But Beckett’s play looks positively quaint when compared to the slow building despair which pulses throughout ‘Super Duper Close Up’; it’s an experience akin to watching a small iceberg start to crack and fragment.
Made in China is essentially a collaboration between Latowicki and dramaturg Tim Cowbury, and this is their seventh show together. They have talked about exploring the intersection between performance art and theatre, which means there are moments when the audience is made complicit in the action. During one scene, an audience member is escorted onto the stage, given champagne and made to endure a rather humiliating facial cleansing routine (the pretty, dark haired girl who participated at this particular performance was such a good sport, I initially thought she was part of the company).
‘I was born with fear’, says Latowicki, and there are frequent bouts of hyperventilating. There’s also an unflattering aerobics work-out. Say what you like about the manic, intense Latowicki but you have to admire her vanity free acting: here, she gurns and sweats and rolls around on the floor in a pair of gruesome leopard print hot pants, as if it’s the last work-out she’ll ever do. The line between character and performer is blurry and Latowicki looks on the verge of tears sometimes. It’s less a performance, more a self-administered exorcism.
What does it all mean? It’s a piece of theatre which partly explores the culture of overload we now inhabit, and have embraced so comprehensively. Contrary to what the dull, Tech guru’s of this age would have us believe, social media hasn’t brought us closer together – it’s made us even more isolated. The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s absolutely no going back.
‘Super Duper’ also addresses the need to keep distracted in order to escape painful feelings; scrolling through Instagram for hours is one way (apparently the scrolling action releases Endorphins). The character’s malady is initially ambiguous but there are clues in the dense text (which you can buy): ‘I feel something in my chest’, she says, ‘it feels like a bottle that’s going to explode.’ Later, she says: ‘I think to myself that everyone in this story will die.’
It might sound awfully bleak but ‘Super Duper’ is very funny, a brilliantly controlled example of gallows humour. And anyone who hates going to weddings will surely be tempted to learn the pragmatic, romance puncturing routine that appears towards the end: ‘I think you (two) are good together. But it’s quite possible you won’t go anywhere.’
It could do with tightening up during the home stretch, and is about 10 minutes too long. But Made in China have created a bold, discomforting piece of theatre, which lingers in the mind for days afterwards. ‘Super Duper Close Up’ is a surreal, forensic examination of something specific and primal; not loneliness but the fear of being abandoned.
★ ★ ★ ★