Do you ever come out of a theatre with a quizzical expression on your face and the thought ‘what have I just seen?’ It does happen to me sometimes, most recently as I left the Camden People’s Theatre following Luis Amália’s one-person show Stigma.
Written by Luis Amália and Adam Zmith, Stigma is a series of stories, some autobiographical, that are told in an interlinked way. They examine, in detail, Esther Moya’s time at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Then there is the teenage boy that was no good at sport and so became the team mascot. Later the same boy – now a man – goes to a gay sauna where their fears really stand out. There are even sections from Bergman’s Autumn Sonata in the mix.
It’s quite a fascinating hour that moves along pretty fast and takes the audience through a lot. The Olympics story is itself quite fascinating and Amália doesn’t hold back in physically re-living the night Moya was robbed of her podium position. I think one of the selling points of Stigma is that it will appeal to different people in different ways. As someone with quite major body image issues, I found the sequence in the sauna very, very easy to identify with. The internal voice telling you why things aren’t working out the way you think they should was particularly apt and amazingly redolent of the internal conversations I have every day.
On the CPT website advertising the show is the line, “Believe me, you haven’t tried a show like this before.” And I have to agree. I suppose that linking all the elements is an overwhelming sense of, I would say, unjust failure. Moya was robbed of the medal, the boy becomes a mascot as he is not able to be an athlete, the visit to the sauna doesn’t work as they don’t feel they fit in. All in all, this could be quite a depressing show.
The fact it isn’t is down to the performance. Amália is a very physical performer, not only demonstrating gymnastics but doing step exercises to a metronome beat whilst telling a story. More than this, they have a very expressive face. There are some little glances and looks that create a titter among the audience, even if they are not entirely sure why they are laughing. I got the feeling that no matter how sad and depressing life was, Amália is one of those people determined to pull every positive moment out and enjoy them to the full.
Sitting here now, I’m still not sure of my reaction to Stigma. There were moments when I couldn’t understand the laughter and some, where I seemed to be the only one chuckling. I feel that Stigma is a very individualistic show for both the performer and the audience. As I left, I found myself thinking about the performance I’d seen. Did it work for me? Yes. on some levels it did. Was I entertained? Yes, definitely. Did I learn something? Well yes. I learned that in fact, I’m not alone in being a little bit weird and at times out of sync with what the world expects. Finally, was I glad I’d seen – or should I say experienced – Stigma? Definitely.
Review by Terry Eastham
A queer kid, a horny mascot, a hairy body in a sauna, a gymnast performing at the Olympics, a Hollywood legend. Luis Amália has one hour to perform them all.
LUIS AMÁLIA presents
Wed 15 & Thur 16 at 7:15pm Fri 17 & Sat 18 Jun at 9pm