Addiction and art, sisterhood and circus
By Myron My
Greeted with offerings of tea and coffee, we are welcomed into our Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. We all have stories we want to share in this meeting (whether we know it or not), but before we begin, Jess Love has something she would like to share, and that is how performance piece Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl begins.
Throughout this deeply personal show, Love explores her struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, and the effects it has had on her personal life and the disconnect she feels with her family. With a Christmas family photo projected on the screen – one that does not include Love – she informs us that while she is a self-confessed queer carnie who drinks too much, the rest of her family are involved in the teaching profession and have also been Christian missionaries.
There is one family member that Love shares a bond with however: the “notorious strumpet and dangerous girl” herself, Love’s great, great, great, great grandmother Julia Mullins. Mullins was sent to Australia as a convict in 1826 for prostitution where she led a life of drunkenness, theft and other crimes. Despite the centuries between between them, there is a connection that Love feels with Mullins as they both deal with their addictions. One of the most striking visuals of the evening occurs when Love dresses up to resemble what Mullins might have worn back in her time, and presents a cheeky but touching homage to her distant relative.
The self-destructiveness of Love’s addictions are executed brilliantly in her ‘drunken’ circus performances. Her intoxication is highly convincing and the sense of danger is heightened during these routines, even when it is a standard hula hoop routine. The use of circus, performance and spoken word to share her stories and express her thoughts and feelings is well thought-out, with great pacing and momentum that never lags.
Love knows how to get the audience onside and even when the alcohol gets the better of her character and her behavior turns chaotic and crass, it is done in a way where we want to reach out and help her. The final moments of Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl offers hope and calm for Love, and for anyone who may be experiencing difficulties in their life. While Love’s life has not always been pretty, she has managed to create something beautiful and meaningful with this show.
Venue: Meat Market, 5 Blackwood St, North Melbourne
Season: until 2 October | Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 7pm
Length: 50 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $20 Conc / Cheap Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival