The Blackpool-born performance artist’s new show will shock and delight you, but no one will leave without realising something about themselves.
Full disclosure: watching Martha Pailing’s latest work-in-progress show Chat Shit, Get Hit will be a very different experience if you’re a woman than it was for me as a man.
If you are a woman going to see this startling work of spoken word and performance art, I imagine you might be wearily familiar with the ideas she explores, from the bubbling undercurrent of female rage to the reasons this rage rears its head.
But if you’re a man, it might just make you reassess your own previous relationships, and your own behaviour, and you might not like what you find.
Pailing was born and raised in Blackpool and now lives and works primarily in London, but, as she explained in the post-show Q&A, she wanted to bring the show to her hometown as it’s the kind of art that she never saw here when she was growing up.
This alone makes The Old Electric the show’s perfect host. As Blackpool’s leading community art space since it was established in 2020, it’s a place that champions diverse and interesting art and theatre, and Chat Shit, Get Hit definitely meets that brief.
Pailing’s performances are hard to define, as they play with the forms of spoken word and live art, and reading a pithy blurb of the show is unlikely to give you a real flavour of what to expect without seeing it yourself.
There are touches of humour to break up the tension of Pailing’s performance, but there is always fury behind her smile
A piece performed in three acts, Pailing details her relationship with anger in the wake of a breakdown, and the world around her which forced her to breaking point. From the very beginning, her performance is disarming. Despite seeing men shout and scream their frustrations in the media countless times, the same behaviour from women is often criticised as hysterical or overemotional. But here, Pailing owns her actions and the way she chooses lash out.
There are touches of humour to break up the tension of Pailing’s performance, but there is always fury behind her smile. From descriptions of her unconventional way of watering her neighbour’s flowers, to surrealist tales of feminine rodents, there is plenty to find amusing within the hour-long show, but once you dig deeper, the realisation of what these vignettes represent hit me like a tonne of bricks.
To focus solely on the piece as spoken word would be doing it a disservice. With assistance from director Ursula Martinez and dramaturg Annioe Siddons, Pailing revels in the awkwardness of her performance: waiting in perfect silence while the kettle boils makes you sit and consider everything that’s come before. Likewise, the use of multimedia really hammers home some of the broader ideas. Montages of men being almost cartoonishly aggressive to one another or famous examples of men telling women to calm down really made the penny drop for me. I remember how David Cameron telling Angela Eagle to “Calm down, dear” seemed bad at the time, but within the context of the show, I genuinely realised how abhorrent it actually was.
At times, it was difficult to tell if the emotions that were being expressed were performative or cathartic. The likelihood is they are both. And as a woman attending this show, you may experience some catharsis yourself – I can only imagine how seeing something like this must make you feel genuinely seen. But as a man, my lived experience in a patriarchal society didn’t lead to catharsis, but to the grim realisation that we need to do better. A hell of a lot better.
Chat Shit, Get Hit is a work-in-progress show that’s next being performed at Camden People’s Theatre, London on Oct 3-4th, 2023. Tickets available here. Read Martha’s piece for Blackpool Social Club on female rage here.
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