Dubbed as a celebratory, surprising and hilarious homage to pity porn, sympathy and the impaired, The Araniello Show is at The Yard, London as part of NOW 18. Review by Ju Gosling aka ju90
I entered The Yard Theatre with great anticipation at seeing Katharine Araniello, so the fact that her entrance was accompanied by a loud man clapping and exhorting the audience to join in was bound to disappoint me. As did his accompanying her onto the stage, along with a track-suited dancer, who was obstructing my view. But this is a Show With Daniel Oliver, with added artists, and some of the company are outstanding as support acts. More of that later, though.
For anyone still excluded from accessing YouTube, Katharine Araniello is a performance and video artist whose adult surrealist humour deals with life and death issues. Araniello’s experiences of society’s reactions to her as someone with SMA are a recurring theme in her work, particularly the ongoing euthanasia ‘debate’.
Another of Araniello’s themes is sex, intended to challenge views of disabled women as asexual and genderless. Araniello’s educational background includes an MA from Goldsmiths, training ground for so many YBAs, and she is a long-term collaborator with Aaron Williamson, himself also a visual artist, as The Disabled Avant Garde.
Katherine Araniello has given too many great performances to mention them all here although one of my favourites was her stage invasion at the Southbank Centre with Aaron Williamson, both shrouded as the Angels of Death and chanting ‘Disability Arts is dead… long live Disability Arts’. The Araniello Show is definitely up there with her best – even if I am not sure of Daniel Oliver’s contribution.
Araniello’s trademark scarlet quiff and slashed red lipstick, complemented by a sequined red tie, ensured that all eyes remained on her.
The accompanying video that opens the show sets the scene for the content to come: send-ups of society’s views of Araniello’s genetic condition and therefore her life as a tragedy; questioning of ‘answers’ from Dignitas and the medical profession; and constant reminders of sexuality, including what even I can only describe as deviant sexuality. When disabled people are regarded as being asexual, abuse inevitably follows, and in her usual subtle and sophisticated way, Araniello drags this into the open.
Araniello’s voice really shone through, benefiting from over-dubbing, mixing and generally great sound from Jenna Finch posing as a hooded figure hunched unobtrusively on the stage over a compact but impressive flashing bank of lights. Suffice it to say that no one has a version of Born Like This, which bears any resemblance to Katherine’s.
Her other main stage asset was her unobtrusive but always in character assistant Shona Walne, whose carer’s outfit was complemented by a large and colourful pair of rubber gloves more suited for unblocking sewers. The content was also brilliantly interpreted by Tracey Tyer, who seamlessly became part of the supporting cast for both of the evening’s shows.
I’m not quite sure what The Yard Theatre’s audience thought of it all, particularly after a harrowing hour from Katy Baird, the artist who preceded her. There, laughter turned to silence as an almost-naked Baird, whose show had been advertised as being about ‘those times in your life when you feel totally lost’, told the story of hitting 40 as a Queer woman, unable to enjoy life without regular drug use – described graphically — and not knowing where to go next.
By anyone’s standard, Baird’s body was more vulnerable than Araniello’s. The audience, who seemed particularly nervous when Araniello joked about clipping a cyclist with her van on her way to the show, left with a lot to think about. But only after they had sung their way through a karaoke version of Porcupine Vagina.