Sharpshooting From the Hip

“What You Get Is What You See” is what Sue Ingleton calls her latest one-woman show, which features 80 minutes of her irreverent brand of power-packed, stand-up, bend-over, turn-inside-out-and-upside-down comedy. She might also have called it “What You Get Is What You Can Catch” -at least 10% of her high-velocity rap was lost on me, partly because of her fairly strong “Strine” accent (Ms Ingleton is from Melbourne), and partly because I was sitting too far back to read her lips.

But what I did catch provoked a great deal more than mirth. Ms Ingleton possesses a mind as sharp as her tongue is quick, and an indomitable female warrior’s spirit to boot. She covered a lot of ground at one go – sex, politics, and religion – oh, the standard curriculum of life; made merciless fun of men and their hangups (and hangdowns); beat the patriarchy into a bloody pulp, sliced it up and barbecued it over a low fire, and then served it up with a thick gravy of sublime ridicule. And she did it with such magnificent panache the men didn’t seem to mind at all (except for one elderly chap who staged an indignant walkout halfway through the show).

She started out as a creepy old crone in purdah (well, you could tell from her voice she was at least 98 years old), greeting the audience with a rubber honker in hand and cries of “Paper lama!” – all the while babbling away inanely. I suspect she would have done more with the purdah if it weren’t for the censorious presence of DBKL (Dewan Bandaraya, KL, aka City Hall, which recently cancelled an extended run of The Vagina Monologues just because some busybody in Kedah, who hadn’t even seen the show, wrote a formal complaint).

Then she whipped off the mock purdah and launched into a goodhumoured spoof of Karen Loftus, the blonde sexbomb standup from L.A. who recently played KL. She displayed an impressive arsenal of vernacular accents telling us about Klang Valley taxi drivers she’s known. Her voice dropped a whole octave as she took the mickey out of the entire male gender.

I particularly enjoyed Ms lngleton’s version of the Immaculate Conception in which the Virgin Mary sends her ‘gynie’ off to heaven to collect a cup of God’s sperm so she can conceive the holy infant. We don’t often get such provocative freedom of expression in local theatre. A real breath of fresh air! Ms Ingleton comes from that venerable lineage of storytellers, bards, court jesters, and oracles who claim the right to say pretty damn much what they please and get away with it.

It takes more than mental acuity and verbal agility to pull off something like that. Ms Ingleton is plugged right into the pulse of events. Her insights spring from the core of being human. Even as she cracks you up, she’s shedding more light on everything she rants about. It’s a bit like a ten-laughs-per-minute freeform philosophy lecture; you actually feel smarter at the end of her performance.

She summoned George Bush and Colin Powell on stage to make complete fools of themselves, and they gleefully complied. With a few basic props like spectacles, hats, and a coat (which she actually forgot to use), Ms Ingleton shapeshifted into a couple dozen characters and back with no apparent effort. She broached subjects long held taboo, like incest and polygamy; made fun of Mormons and Mammonists; waxed biological and mythological; demolished scientific materialism and several monarchies. All without a break or even a pause in between attacks.

She spoke of water and the moon and the magical properties of menstrual blood. Ancient goddess wisdom disguised as comedy. A wide-awake intelligence at work, sparking off fresh perceptions, jolting the audience out of its complacency, pushing it to the far boundaries of its comfort zone.

I’ve only come across one other purveyor of offbeat comedy from Down Under who’s anywhere near Sue Ingleton in terms of originality and impact: an amazing fellow named Tim Scally (also from Melbourne) whose “man with a flaming suitcase on his head” and “bucket of death” routines I shall never forget. Scally’s approach, however, is extremely physical and visceral, while lngleton’s humour is mostly cerebral and verbal. Both, I believe, have at different times worked with Circus Oz.

She ended her show with a little sermon on the laws of manifestation: “Be careful when you make a wish. You have to get the details just right. This friend of mine badly wanted a red Porsche, and she very nearly got herself killed when one came crashing right through her bedroom wall. She forgot to visualize the pleasure of owning a red Porsche, and driving it around. Now imagine some chap wishing he had a big fat prick… and suddenly finding Samy Vellu in his lap!”

Sue lngleton’s sizzling solo performance – presented by the Instant Cafe Theatre and packed out the night I caught it – was her way of saying “cheerio for now” after several productive weeks in KL conducting workshops and directing Deborah Michael in Woman on the Couch. We’re indeed fortunate that this masterful dramaturge and totally magic mama seems to really enjoy her stints here. Her wealth of experience, boundless vitality, and enormous talent have inspired a great many local theatre practitioners.


First Published: 04.03.2002 on Kakiseni

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