Gushing into the largest of the Tramway theatres to reach the front row of seating around Farquhar’s catwalk we reach our seats and prepare for what is quickly unravelling as destined to be guiltily enjoyable: a hanging rail of deliciously moth-eaten, tattered, or well preserved garments stands alongside the foreshortened catwalk. It looks simply displaced from the kind of charity shops it is a true pleasure to find, if you’re that way inclined. Inclined to ignore the skins those clothes have previously touched, the people they’ve adorned, and the histories they hold. ‘Acts of Clothing: 7up’ is the tale of Farquhar’s clothes.
She enters a poised, raven-haired, pale-skinned, red-lipped, pearl-wearing, woman bedecked in her ‘famous Flamenco dress’ of Farquhar tartan. She proceeds to dance unlearnt steps of, first Flamenco, then Scottish, gawky, brash and energetic (gracefully ageing as she is she’s not as young as she used to be, and she lets us know that she’s well aware of this throughout, especially as this is the repeat performance of this work seven years on). This introduction that was generous, vivacious, and dashed with the kind of self-deprecating humour that suits British, middle class funny women, set-up her style succinctly. It was almost overplayed though, compared to the outpouring of the informal, seemingly loosely scripted monologue of narratives that accompanied each dressing and undressing of the 49 items of clothing along the rail.
Let’s state both our positions now, as Farquhar did in the opening sentence of her performance, she’s forty-nine, I’m twenty-six, and the evening is punctuated with feelings of offspring wonder for the parent. I can’t stop myself from fantasising about her in the role of the brilliantly eccentric middle-class mother, the kind with stories of youthful wild abandon at the feet of soon-to-be the biggest rock stars of the 70s. The kind who has a wardrobe full of designer gems that twenty years on she’d pass down to me and I would emerge the coolest retro kid around, eliciting envy while I recounted her stories.
There are little things that punctuate her performance, details and mishaps that mirror the details and mishaps in the stories. There are two gigglers in the intimate audience, and I like them, they are shrill and one constantly tries to muffle them into her friend’s shoulder. Farquhar drops her chewed gum on the floor and picks it up and carries on chewing. Who has the gall to chew gum on an occasion like this? The kind of woman who’ll tell that this was the dress she wore to a wedding when suddenly and unexpectedly menstruation came upon her and she passed the wedding under tree, most of which with the groom’s mother. The kind of woman who’ll stand up and cry “yes” to muffs – the furry sort you place your hands in, but can also fit 10 Euros, a key and a condom in the zip pouch. The kind of woman who doesn’t mind admitting that she got through post-natal depression by dressing well, and at least she looked good in all the pictures. The kind of woman who’ll squeeze herself in and out of outfits too small, down to silky slip, sturdy pants and nylon 60 deniers with the gusset for all to see, at 49 years old.
Some of the humour is almost cliché, but I like it all the same, as does everyone else appear to be. It’s graceful and elegant and she’s wonderful. I want those clothes and that life. I wonder if everyone else does? I’m a girly-girl and I have my clothes that’ll I’ll pass to my as yet imaginary daughters ready and waiting in the attic with my stories. That her performance bases itself on this simple, pleasureable, delicious, middle class stereotype doesn’t bother me. Maybe I should lend a more contextualising, critical eye, but like Shirley Bassey would say ‘something in the way she moves’ doesn’t make me want to. Guiltily enjoyable it is then.