★★★ Ponyboy Curtis presents: vs. at The Yard
6-17 June | 8:30pm | £17
The third coming of Ponyboy Curtis shows early signs of having found its purpose, but ultimately loses its way.
In 2015, the arrival of Chris Goode’s “experimental performance boyband” was a highlight of The Yard’s NOW15 Festival – a raw, experimental performance which explored masculinity and sexuality powerfully and provocatively, a literally full-frontal assault on theatrical convention.
A return to The Yard for NOW16 – with the inelegantly titled FCKSYSTMS – felt a little like an exercise in consolidation. There was little on show that was new or even improved, but undeniably the brand was solidified.
So, then, to 2017s vs., an opportunity, surely, to establish Ponyboy Curtis not simply as a one-trick pony (sorry!). And things begin well. A fear that the annual Ponyboy performances might just become a highbrow excuse to watch naked boys prancing is allayed by an opening 25 minutes or so which is genuinely challenging, experimental, engaging and thought-provoking. The nudity – which is an unavoidable feature of Ponyboy Curtis performances – feels in no way gratuitous, nor a distraction, and indeed there is a clear sense that the entire Ponyboy ‘ethos’ has been refined.
A cacophonous opening, climaxing in an arresting display of guttural expression, segues into a sort-of pastiche of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and at this stage their ambition to “conjure an unconstrained love poem to the feral city and the queerness of the ground beneath our feet” appears within reach.
However, things take a turn for the “so what?” as the nudity – and attendant voyeurism – ceases to be a means to an end and becomes the entire focus. Suddenly, there is the unescapable feeling that this is just naked boys prancing/kissing/sucking/wanking, a provocation for provocation’s sake. A chasm develop between the performers and the audience – where for the first half there is a feeling of inclusiveness, there now is an uncomfortable feeling akin to being the clothed observer at a nudist beach. The vulnerability of the Ponyboys is undeniable, but the right to witness it is not earned by the audience, nor granted by the performers themselves.
Inescapable is the feeling that Chris Goode – himself unseen, very much not one of those exposing all of themselves for our ‘consumption’ – has run out of ideas beyond sending his boys out year after year for another game of spin-the-bottle, catch me if you can, strip poker without the poker. There is absolutely a lot still to be said about masculinity, sexuality and gender, and Ponyboy Curtis has certainly contributed something – but it’s hard to see what more it can now usefully contribute, without almost becoming a parody of itself.