goo:ga, Camden People's Theatre - Review

The last time that Hannah Ballou performed at Camden People's Theatre with hoo:ha, her show concluded with the disclosure she was pregnant with her first child. Fast forward seven months, Ballou's back with her follow-up show goo:ga, examining cultural influences on the gender of children, as well the preference of sex/gender (plus some personal anecdotes for good measure).

Using some facts and figures as a jumping off point, we were informed from a reliable source that not everyone is born as a girl or a boy – that as much as 2% of the population are born with (physical) traits of both sexes. That's untold thousands of children who don't fall within rigid definitions of identity and often have 'corrective' surgery later in life (although decisions to carry this without the person's readiness can have huge psychological ramifications).

The cultural analysis continued with magazine covers where in one notable example, the cover made disparaging remarks about Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as too thin, while a pregnant Kim Kardashian was described as 'a whale'. Even by the double-standards of women's magazines, this was all-time low, attacking the body shape of women who are expectant.

Taking a more personal tact, Ballou talked the size of her baby and the name she had given [it] – she hadn't divulged the sex of her her baby yet at that point. Within obstetric circles, zygotes are regularly compared to the size of fruit, which inspired her present nickname for her unborn child. She also made a clever joke regards to the indeterminate gender of the baby pre/post-birth with 'Schrödinger's cat' which I thought was quite perceptive.

Not one to disappoint, Ballou sang another of her witty, but pertinent songs on her ukulele and brought her 'artistic collaborator' Nigel the pug dog onstage, whose keen sense of smell has noticed the changes within Ballou and perhaps an inkling of what lies ahead.

Returning to cultural values, baby showers are a common enough event, but Ballou showed footage of a growing phenomenon in the United States: videos that publicly advertise and celebrate the baby's sex. For the most part these were really funny, though it was quite telling how the men in no way hid the fact they were delighted when they were having a son (or disappointed when they weren't) and that their other children assimilated these values.

For the show, Ballou gave the audience a shortlist of names that she and her husband were considering for their daughter and the reasons why each would be suitable (or at least why they respectively liked/didn't like a given name). Connotations played a big part of the choices, though I have to admit that the name eventually chosen by the audience wasn't one I would have picked for all sorts of reasons! Only time will tell if they decide to definitely use it.

It will be interesting to see Ballou's show 6+ months from now, to see if her intention to raise a child with a minimal amount of gender-specific direction is possible. Potentially she could update her show annually with the latest developments of raising her child, in the same way film-maker Richard Linklater chronicled Mason growing up in the fictitious Boyhood.

© Michael Davis 2016

goo:ga ran at Camden People's Theatre on 29th and 30th April 2016 and will run again at Komedia, Brighton on Sunday 8th May 2016 (1:30pm).


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