Kazoos, Roman Godexxes, love-drunk nymphs and The Eye Of The Tiger. If I was to group these things together without explaining Into the Bush, you’d have no idea what I was on about. Butch Mermaid’s production cleverly subverts arcane gendered tropes, while maintaining a hilarious front, and placing LGBTQIA+ issues front and centre, all the while showing off the cast’s incredible athleticism with an 80s, disco-infused soundtrack.
The play’s taken from John Lyly’s 1588 play Galathea. Galathea centres on lesbian desire, with an array of crossdressing throughout the production, which was incredibly radical for the time it was performed in. Ania Upstill’s remake, however, takes this and uses the play as a jumping-off point into a wider celebration of the 21st Century’s LGBTQIA+ community, with a strong focus on gender, expression and the universality of love, all wrapped in a parcel of the Roman pantheon’s gossip.
Upstill’s Into the Bush hilariously subverts the arcane tropes surrounding the intersection of virginity and purity, as well as the binary placed on both gender and love. The production’s message is clear; there’s not necessarily any ‘right’ way to love someone, there’s no ‘right’ gender to identify as, and all things considered, the Roman pantheon probably wouldn’t have loved these binaries, anyway. Another fun little tidbit is when Cupid explains that they don’t have a bow and arrow to make people fall in love anymore, but instead a kazoo and some confetti, because ‘mum’ (Venus) wants us to move towards a weapons-free future.
There’s a strong sense of connection between circus theatre & gender expression during Into the Bush’s runtime. Upstill incorporates elements of Aotearoa’s drag scene, pays homage to the different eras of drag which have paved the way for where we’re at now, and explores the link between nonbinary genders & physcial expression. There’s a distinct lack of sexualisation in the production, making it all the more accessible for anyone watching. It doesn’t feel voyeuristic; instead it’s an honest, all-encompassing celebration of gender, love, and liberation.
Into the Bush ran from 13-16 May at TAPAC.