Imagine being a young, single gay man in 2015. The world is your proverbial oyster. There are hundreds of dating apps out there, enough to satisfy your every desire, and the gay ‘scene’ is no longer hidden, but is out and proud with clubs, bars and even a dedicated LGBT+ theatre here in London. What could go wrong? These are the themes explored by Performance Artist Daren Pritchard in his show “In Bad Taste” at the wonderfully named Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes in Shoreditch.
Daren’s character lives in a flat which at first sight seems fairly normal. Untidy, clothes all over the floor, pictures of bronzed young men on the walls, a bottle of wine on the side and, rather incongruously, a lot of bananas, cans of Coke Zero all over the place and a strange sign reading ‘‘Please do not feed the models’ on the wall. Daren himself appears with his hunky conquest of the night before. He is young, slim and attractive, the perfect image of a gay man. He is aware of himself as are so many others – his phone keeps pinging with messages from Grindr – and he talks with the audience about the fun and perils of the dating/hook-up scene, getting many a knowing and understanding chuckle from the listeners. In fact for Daren, it all seems to be pretty perfect. Like many men in his situation, he is a gym bunny, working out regularly to keep his shape up. And this is where you get the feeling that all is not well. Daren feels that his physical appearance is being constantly judged by others. He looks at himself and doesn’t like what he sees – should he have treated himself to a digestive biscuit yesterday? Does it show on his hips already? Afraid that he will be rejected for failing to meet the standards required by the gay community, he resorts to extreme methods to keep himself in shape, and I really do mean extreme. He must be the perfect body.
Every year at the various fashion weeks, there are articles about size zero models on the catwalk and when Dove announced it would be using ‘real’ women in its adverts that made national news. You have world famous models like Kate Moss making statements – and I’m not making this up – ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. It’s no wonder there is so much pressure on young girls to conform to a physical stereotype.
And yet, the gay community is as bad, if not worse, for judging people by their appearance. Open the pages of any of the gay listings magazines and you will see picture after picture of young pretty boys, shirts off, tanned six-packs gleaming. Even worse, look at the underwear adverts everywhere. Ever see anyone with a waist above 28 inches, no and you never will. This leads to an often false perception of how a man should look. According to studies by the National Eating Disorders Association, ‘Gay males are 7 times more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging than heterosexual males. Gay men represent well over twenty five percent of all male eating disorder cases nationally’.
Daren’s performance really addresses this head on. He does not shun away from showing the extremes young men are willing to go to in order to not only get, but maintain the ‘perfect’ body. For the audience, it makes uncomfortable viewing seeing the depths to which this young man sinks – not just believing Kate Moss was right but literally eating her words – getting his body ‘right’ and then seeking validation of it. Out on the scene, picking up a random person to tell him how great he looks, then being let down as they leave him the next day – obviously because he is not worthy of them physically so he must improve – a potentially horrific downward spiral of self-doubt that has only one end.
I was really impressed with the commitment Daren showed to get his message across. His dedication to the story he was telling was 100% and that really showed in the reaction from the audience at the end of the piece. Afterwards, my companion (young, slim without trying) and I (old, everything gone south years ago) had quite a heated discussion all the way home as we had both seen the same show but interpreted the message differently to each other. Daren’s short piece of work caused this discussion and made us both think about our own approach to dating and sitting in judgement on others. Now that, my friends, really is the magic of good performance art.
Review by Terry Eastham
‘In Bad Taste’ follows a recently-single gay man waking from a one night stand and finding empowerment in his new sexual confidence. He revels in the variety of guys available, but soon discovers a disposable nature to men and faces constant judgement. Desperate for validation, he thrives off the attention and finds his self-image at stake. Drag without the wigs & dresses, cabaret without the live singing and a play without the need for realism – In Bad Taste is the debut performance by Daren Pritchard. Exploring sexuality & body image, it’s a one-man theatrically-infused performance art piece that is dark, raunchy and intentionally self-indulgent. Littered with pop culture references, the piece combines bold visuals, spoken word and contemporary choreography. Treating his work almost as a living album: each scene can be treated as an individual ‘track’, with the possibility of working as a standalone project, but combines together for a cohesive body of work.
Monday 13th April 2015