In Power Ballad, performer and creator Julia Croft proves that the answers don’t have to be definitive and clear for a room to ring with conviction. Much like a ballad, Zanetti Production’s new piece belts out confidence alongside vulnerability, spells out some truths while questioning others and brings us all a little bit closer together in the process.
Croft writhes on the floor, a dark, long wig covering her face for the opening scene of Power Ballad. The room is shrouded in a disquieting darkness. While her black leggings and hair seem to meld with the shadows, her pale chest, back, feet and hands seem fractured and stark. Her breasts jerk. If she were still you could count her vertebrae.
Instead, she struggles to move the microphone without her hands, an unsettling metaphor about vulnerability when women are forced to let their bodies speak for them. When she dons a blazer and removes her wig, she stands behind the microphone for a long time without speaking. She teases the audience, opening her mouth to suggest speech but tapping the microphone, blowing on it and even putting it in her mouth instead.
The suspense is broken in a burst of power that doesn’t fade. “Lan…guage,” she proclaims, changing the pitch of her voice with each iteration to deconstruct the word. “Gender!” “Feminist theatre!” She wields words like weapons, and wreaks havoc in turn. Tone complicates some words, vindicates others and decries a few. Slurs against women hurled at the audience in unearthly pitches are casually discarded as “just words” seconds later, repudiating the hollow excuse for the crowd forever. Fragments of speech in the half-light seem surreal, potent. Croft’s every small gesture seems to represent a pointed adjudication or an evocative sentiment.
Not just dark and poignant but ultimately warm and fervent, the show ends with the audience coming together in karaoke. It isn’t what Croft creates that makes this show so profound, but what she disrupts. She may not tell a complete story, but Power Ballad suggests truth and provokes nuance in a way that no concrete narrative can.
Words: Emily Hall
Power Ballad, Summerhall, Aug 2-27 (not 3, 14, 21), 7.30pm