The room darkens, the pop music starts, and through the centre aisle two male dancers approach- no they aren’t dancers, but angels, dressed in wings, tight boxers, and trainers. The audience’s attention is on these two angels seamlessly dancing, as down through the aisle enters the messiah, the God, the bride, the director, the protagonist. We all know the bride is the person at the wedding everyone is waiting to see walking down the aisle dressed in white- just as our bride here does too, clad in a homemade, white, Adidas cape. She is the only person with her own entrance, her own cape- something we know as a sign of power and strength from all those superhero movies- and her own voice. Our two angels so far are silent, but our protagonist is singing and at this moment it is all about her, about her entrance, her voice and, and as she draws our attention to it, the dildo in her hand that she is using rather than a microphone.
This is the opening scene to Lucy McCormick’s show Triple Threat (2016), which I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016.
Triple Threat sits between theatre, cabaret, and performance art- a mash-up of bible stories, pop songs, and debauchery. While the show structurally reflects traditional aspects of a play, being made up of three acts, the fourth wall is broken. Performing before us is McCormick as herself and her two dancers as themselves, taking on different characters in the retelling of the birth, life, and death of Jesus. The audience is spoken to directly by McCormick and become part of the telling of the story: being given gifts from the three wise men (gold blend coffee, frankfurter sausages, and meringues) or helping Jesus ascend to heaven as everyone in the audience helps McCormick (at this point playing Jesus) crowd surf back down the aisle as the finale.
We know that Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in Paris.
Did I know the story of Doubting Thomas before McCormick’s show?
Do I know it now?
In the story of Doubting Thomas, the apostle will only be convinced that Jesus has really risen from the dead when he is invited to poke his fingers into each wound made by the crucifixion. In McCormick’s retelling of the Doubting Thomas story she has no wounds from crucifixion, instead Thomas (played by one of the male dancers), places his fingers into McCormick’s own pre-existing holes¬¬¬– every single one of them.
In The Guardian McCormick said, “I just tried to retell this story with my body, which is a woman’s body, and my references, which are modern-day pop references. With those tools, how would I retell this story?” (Logan, 2016). Just as McCormick’s show presents the antithesis between popular culture and bible stories, in the widely discussed Doubting Thomas scene the audience is presented with an antithesis between intense male pain and intense female pleasure as McCormick is fingered on stage. Whilst she does not reach climax her pleasure is plainly shown. In Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman (2016), an un-ordinary cabaret that “questions and reinvents the rites and cultural representations of menstruation” (Carnesky). Carnesky argues that the image of blood through out myth, folklore, and history represents the cyclical renewal of menstruation. She suggests that Jesus’s wounds from the crucifixion, that do not bring him death but renewed life is appropriated from the female menstrual cycle, the bleeding wound of renewed life that will never heal.
Western society is still greatly based on Enlightenment theory, in particular Descartes’ theory of Cartesian Dualism, “I am a thinking thing, not a body” (Descartes, 1641, p.108). Descartes’ theory dictates that what separates man from animal and makes man superior is the ability to think. Through this idea binaries are created: human/animal, mind/body, male/female, civilised/uncivilised. Women, whose value was centred on their ability to reproduce were viewed as of the body, not of the mind and thus seen as second class to men. The creation of these binaries leads to a process of othering where anyone who is not straight, white, western, and male is viewed as second class and becomes the ‘othered’ body. The othered body has, for the most part, been disregarded in Western history and not given a voice.
In a society based upon Enlightenment theory, female pleasure is viewed by patriarchal society as of the body and uncivilised. The lack of understanding by men of a bodily experience that is innately female means that female pleasure is often viewed as unexplainable and consequently considered as something to fear and brushed away. Just as the female voice has been brushed away from much of western history and storytelling. In the Odyssey, Homer told the epic story of Odysseus’s many trials; over two thousand years later Penelope was finally given her own voice in Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad (2005) that retold the famous story from her perspective.
Throughout Triple Threat, McCormick highlights the lack of female characters within the New Testament. The only female parts are the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. The Virgin Mary is glorified by her virginity and innocence. Male disciples of Jesus got to offer their perspective of Jesus’s life and death through their gospels. Although Mary Magdalene was as loyal a disciple she is defined by her profession—a prostitute—and one of the disciples of Jesus unworthy of a gospel. Both women who played a vital role in the life of Jesus are never given a voice. Their role in Jesus’s life is defined and written about by men. Here another binary is highlighted, the binary that divides women into two categories: the pure virgin and the tainted prostitute. Female sexuality is viewed negatively. Yet, McCormick’s mash up of popular culture and the New Testament brings to question if attitudes towards female sexuality have changed over thousands of years and how are these ideas of the past still ingrained in western society?
After seeing McCormick’s Triple Threat I was raving about it to everyone I saw. But, even the liberal theatre literate audiences of the Edinburgh Fringe, including myself, regularly referred to the show as “the one where the girl gets fingered.”
Perhaps, the moment was so widely talked about because it is rare to see female sexuality displayed so frankly and outside of the male gaze. This is not porn made for male arousal, anymore than Ursula Martinez’ hankie strip tease in La Soireé is designed to titillate men. Still performing the strip, although she is now over fifty, Martinez subverts the traditional power balance of the strip tease, in an artful turn in which she is always in control and which constantly references menstruation. These moments where female sexuality is seen openly are rare in a society where innocence is often still put on a pedestal.
Images courtesy of Soho Theatre, London.