When the audience enters the auditorium to watch 'Notorious Strumpet And Dangerous Girl', they are met at the door by our protagonist Jess Love, offering a cup of tea, a biscuit, and a bingo card which will come into play later in the performance.
It is a warm and welcoming move that belies the emotionally charged performance we’re about to see. Unwittingly, the audience has entered into the abyss of the unknown – a dark and sometimes uncomfortable place where one woman’s life is exposed in a stark and often brutal manner.
The show begins with her announcing: “Hello, I’m Jess, and I’m an alcoholic”. On cue the audience respond, “Hi Jess,” and from that point forward we are dragged into her show – a mix of performance art, circus and theatre wrapped around an otherwise ordinary meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. The only difference is that at this meeting we are served a hard-edged cocktail that is both raw and visceral – the story of a woman living on the edge and the madness that comes with prolonged substance abuse.
Jess introduces us to her extended family via a series of photographs. There is her sister, her brother, her nieces and nephews, her mother and father. This a family of clean-living teachers and missionaries who were born in in Tasmania. None of them, Jess points out, are alcoholics. In fact her ancestry shows nothing but orthodoxy, except when we arrive at her great-great-great-great grandmother Jess Mullins who was convicted of theft in the UK and transported to Australia.
Jess uses the show to explore the genetic factors that play a part in addiction, which in turn explains her own obsession with drugs and booze which she says is in her DNA.
She intersperses revelatory moments with circus acts, performance theatre and a hula hoop striptease, effortlessly engaging the audience every step of the way. But it is not the shock of the ‘knowing’ that makes Jess so engaging – it is the absolute honesty, vulnerability and candour she expresses that makes us bond with her.
One of the most powerful scenes arrives when Jess skips furiously on the spot, the arc of rope creating a visually mesmerising and symbolic shield around her. It is her defence against the disgraces of her own behaviour.
The show moves at a reckless pace with Jess changing emotional gears as fast as her costumes. One moment she is child-like, helpless and susceptible – the next she is leaping among the crowd, inviting members of the audience to join her in a threesome.
There is barely time for her to breathe before she returns to the stage and begins gingerly stepping across the top of six shaky bottles – balancing herself and her past in a hauntingly beautiful moment.
This is a show that rips you from your comfort zone and takes you to a place that is rough, uncomfortable, achingly sad, and genuinely funny. And despite the roller coaster of emotions that play out during the show, you leave feeling weirdly uplifted. Like you’ve just found a new friend who is open, warm, relaxed and endearingly playful.