It was Suitcase Prize Day yesterday, and I can appreciate that On The Run were an excellent choice of winner. We saw an excerpt of their show, Tell Me Anything, which was delivered from a stage marked by a grid of water cups, with one massive inflatable dolphin. The guy was likeable, presenting a set of reflections on his teenage girlfriend and her eating disorder. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops, and how the company manage the difficulties of telling a story so emotionally and politically charged, about someone else.
I feel a bit conflicted about the concept of the Suitcase Prize tbh. On the one hand, the idea that it rewards exciting shows that can be toured on public transport – “sustainably” is the buzzword here – is a great thing, but there’s no denying that light-on-its-feet theatre is also very affordable theatre. Naturally, venues and promoters love it. It suits them down to the fucking ground. But when there are so many opportunities for ‘emerging’ makers, and an Arts Council G4A system which moves the goalposts as soon as you ask for more the £15k, it sometimes feels like what we really need are fewer Suitcase Prizes and more help for artists who want to think big. Sign o’ the times, I suppose.
Still, making the eligibility for an opportunity so broad means that over the course of yesterday we saw hugely varied and interesting work. And I want to take a moment to champion one artist in particular, whose show didn’t have a hope in hell of winning, but was still the absolute highlight of my day.
Zebra Cross! by Shakti Gomez was apparently a bit of a wildcard entry to the shortlist. It’s basically like a dance class with a bit of that weird Human Pups fetish show from the telly the other night, and a bit of David Attenborough too, all delivered by a woman dressed as a zebra. It was a brilliant shambles. Her rubber zebra head caused microphone issues, her instructions to the audience were confusing, but her method of demonstrating pack mentality was simply to hold up inflatable zebras to her hips. Just stand there striking a pose, pressing blow-up animals against her body. I was 100% on board. Much of the rest of the audience absolutely hated it – those po-faced, sitting down, arms crossed philistines – but I was learning all sorts of stuff. Did you know that a zebra’s stripes are as unique as our fingerprints?! No you didn’t. Don’t lie.
The best thing though, was that it was such a triumph over professionalism. I’m so bored of well-educated, well-organised artists looking calmly out at their audience, dramaturging themselves to a tight little nugget of nothing. Every time we thought Zebra Cross has come to an end, our rubber-headed leader would pause and say, all muffled and breathless, “And another thing about zebras is…” and while the rest of the room groaned inwardly, I’d be like YES! TELL ME MORE ABOUT ZEBRAS! I WILL STAY HERE ALL NIGHT IF NECESSARY! LET’S DO THE ZEBRA DANCE!
At the end of the show she gave us magic stripy zebra gems as we filed out of the auditorium. The guy in front of me didn’t take his. Woe betide him if he ever gets injured by a lion and has no herd on call to encircle him.