Sep Arate, on at Basement Theatre until November 15th, is a performance that defies convention and stereotype – which is perfectly fitting, given that its focus is gender portrayal, specifically within the queer spectrum (which is in and of itself a minefield of stereotype, convention, challenge and fluidity). Bringing together dance, elaborate costume, humour and audience interaction, Sep Arate is one of those shows that has the power to make you uncomfortable and examine your own limits of acceptance, as well as entertain and have the entire audience in stitches.
Choreographed by Lydia Zanetti and val smith, the show’s identity has two distinct halves. Welcomed into the comparatively humble loft space upstairs at Basement by Zanetti herself, the house is packed (extra chairs were brought in).
Focusing on identity, the first act is one with plenty of humour, as we are treated to some incredibly effective mime (I, along with my fellow audience members in the front row, are included in the action, which was a fun touch – literally) as well as a stunning poi performance that doubled as a coquettish mating call. We experience the confusion of identity through the characters – particularly the confronting concept of not fitting neatly into a ‘male’ or ‘female’ category.
Queer or not, it’s a deeply human experience to feel excluded, confused by who we may or may not be, and rejected based on something inherent to our characters. To have this explored with both humour and poignancy seemed to resonate with the audience.
Half time involved the performers themselves changing the set, and as the lights dimmed again, the mood, feel, and tone of the show changed completely. Gone was the endearing gender-bending, and in its place was something darker and more threatening. Featuring the same two characters for its entirety (and at times it did feel overly long), the second act (named, extremely aptly ‘Fuck Me, Fuck You’) was confronting and discomforting. A word of warning – if extended displays of simulated sexual activity aren’t your cup of tea, you might find this part of the show a tough one to endure. The theme of sex as a tool for control, oppression, and power play was inescapable – fabulous in that it mirrors the portrayal of sex that surrounds us in the media constantly, and disturbing in its enactment so close, so raw and so riveting.
I have to make a special comment here about the costumes during the second act, which were some of the best and most effective I have ever seen on stage, anywhere. It was impossible to tell the age, gender or body type of either performer, as both were cloaked in enormous, voluminous creations crafted from wigs, faux fur, fleece and stuffing. The movement, juxtaposition of colours (black vs. white) and sheer size of the outfits (outifts? Maybe more like a rig, or a vehicle of some sort would better describe them) were almost a performance in themselves.
Sep Arate not only explores the gender binary, it throws it in your face and refuses to let you avert your gaze. Additionally, tonight’s performance (Thursday 13th) is a fundraiser, with all proceeds going to Rainbow Youth – if you needed another reason to support this pretty powerful and compelling show.
Reviewed by Natalie Ridler