Words from the walls

Public Toilets Private Words (Cradle Productions)

Judith Wright Centre, Shopfront

May 10 – 17 

I saw a theatre show once that took place in some public toilets, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I can’t remember a lot about it; I think the premise was something to do with what would happen if Virginia Wolfe met Hamlet’s Ophelia. What I do remember, however, is the audience, including the middle age man with whom I chatted about his gleeful excitement about being permitted entry into the unknown world of the ladies loos, for in a world on little privacy, public toilets are among the last bastions of discretion. This is both the premise and enticement behind the voyeuristic cabaret show “Public Toilets, Private Words”, which aims to explore the stories behind toilet wall graffiti.

More investigation than narrative presentation, the show begins with a song comprised solely of toilet graffiti. The three characters (Thomas Albert, Caitlin Armstrong and Eloise Maree) then take the audience on a journey to discover the human face behind graffiti, from the chiselled bathhouse wall quips of the Ancient Romans to exploration of love in late 19th Century France. Like the graffiti at the heart of its premise, “Public Toilets, Private Words” represents a mixture of jokes, absurd observations and deeper, reflective confessional moments.

The show is high energy comedy of the DAAS breed, philosophical, political and even sometimes poignant (in the form of a most engaging monologue about 911). The dialogue is dynamic, topical and responsive to audience energy and the original tunes are catchy and entertaining. It is the strong physical comedy skills of Caitlin Armstrong that are the show’s greatest strength. She inhabits every emotion to the extreme, in every part of her face and body, resulting in an animated, yet honest and very funny performance, even to those audience members on the receiving end of her fourth wall breaks and brazen banter, and especially in her energetic meta-theatre reflections. Indeed, the artists are all very talented; Thomas Albert plays a variety of musical instruments – guitar, ukulele, accordion and his song of the Roman roamers is a highlight, along with the high-energy nightclub dance scenes and the trio’s enthusiastic ballet number to conclude the show. But this is also a well-written show with enjoyment to be found in performers’ turns of phrase as much as their physicality.

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“Public Toilets, Private Words” is a clever concept, brought to hilarious light by a group of talented performers. Although it does contain some lewd references (understandable considering that 95% of the graffiti found during research for the show was sexual in nature), it is a thoroughly entertaining contemporary theatre piece that envelopes its audience with the energy and playfulness of its celebration of words from the walls of the original Twitter.

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