Barbican, 2 – 13 February 2010
Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide
Ursula Martinez is an enigma and so is her new solo show, My Stories, Your Emails. An original member of La Clique, Martinez exists in the borderlands between stand-up comedy, burlesque dance, stage magic and performance art. Similarly, My Stories, Your Emails is a lecture, a stand-up act, a play, a confession and an autobiography while simultaneously being none of these things.
It also appears simultaneously to be a constructive, creative response to a potentially upsetting situation and a petty, misdirected act of vengeance.
As the title suggests, it’s a show of two halves. The first involves Martinez reading (mostly) humorous autobiographical anecdotes from a lectern. Her deadpan delivery is disconcertingly reminiscent of Jimmy Carr, though Martinez excels at getting laughs by leaving stories hanging, instead of by comic over-explanation.
The stories serve as a brief introduction to Martinez’s life, revealing aspects of her upbringing and career, details about her family and so on, without sketching anything like a complete picture of her as a person.
The second half concerns a similarly incomplete picture – a video of her magic/striptease act Hanky Panky, which was released onto the internet without her permission – and some of the astonishing conclusions people the world over drew about her as a result. It’s a pageant showcasing some prime examples of that uniquely 21st century prose genre, the speculative online solicitation, in which the objective is to coat every syllable in steaming sexual subtext, but convince the receiving party that you are not just another hopeless case begging for sex.
There’s a surprising variety of pretexts, from those who idolise Martinez as a campaigner for Nudism, to those who want to book her act, through those seeking friendship to those barefacedly requesting sex. What they have in common is that they all think they know, understand or have some kind of claim over Martinez just because they’ve watched a video of her stripping and making a silk handkerchief disappear.
The concept of this segment is a problematic one. A piece of Martinez’s work not intended for mass online consumption ended up online; she responds to this by taking fanmail (complete with full names, photos and even some telephone numbers) presumably meant for her eyes only and performing it publicly. The majority of the men (and they are all men) don’t come out of it especially well. On paper it feels like an eye for an eye.
But she performs the emails without commentary: the men are allowed to present themselves in their own words (though she provides each with an appropriate accent). It also becomes clear from occasional instances of two-way correspondence that their permission has been sought and granted to incorporate their words and pictures into the show.
To presume to draw a definitive conclusion regarding the motivation and ethics behind My Stories, Your Emails would be to make the same mistake as the men. Best just to present the facts and let Ursula Martinez remain an enigma.
Written by Ursula Martinez
Crew includes Mark Whitelaw (director)
Cast includes Ursula Martinez
Need a second opinion?
- Read Dominic Maxwell’s review for The Times
- Read Lyn Gardner’s review for The Guardian
- Read Charles Spencer’s review for The Telegraph
- Read Rhoda Koenig’s review for The Independent
- Read Ian Shuttleworth’s review for the Financial Times
- Read Henry Hitchings’s review for the Evening Standard
- Read Matt Trueman’s review for Culture Wars
- Read Sam Smith’s review for musicOMH