New Zealand Festival
Hannah Playhouse | March 8-15
Ursula Martinez is a confident, brash, and attractive woman. If you’ve seen her show My Stories, Your Emails publicity around town, you’d probably buy a ticket to see what all the fuss is about. Let’s face it, nudity attracts the senses. Martinez knows this as well as anybody, and in this performance questions the concept of identity and how our mad visually stimulating world online has contributed to a society of perverse crackpots. During her opening address to the audience, she wanted to see a show of confessional hands that only came tonight to have a “perve” and see some “minge.” There was something a little disturbing about just how many of us in the audience were actually able to identify with Martinez’s proposition. A clever ‘way-in’ for us to immediately relate to what was about to unravel.
In 2006, Martinez performed a short piece of cabaret, called “Hanky Panky.” Audiences were in disbelief as they watched her make a small red handkerchief disappear through the palm of her hand which would reappear behind the few remaining bits of clothing she still had on; a funny strip routine that was recorded without Martinez’s consent and subsequently went viral online. The fan mail that Martinez received from all over the world formed the inspiration for this fun-fulfilled provocative show that reveals a dark and shady side to our contemporary Internet savvy world.
In writing an email back to Brad Reid, an obsessive American fan, Martinez states her case for Brad to understand that she does not wish to begin any sort of cyber relationship, and that she never intended for her work and naked body to be showcased to the world. Judging someone on the basis of their nudity is a frightful concept. However, for many fans, the video was a life-changing experience.
We were welcomed into Martinez’s personal life as she shared short stories about her family, childhood, and social life growing up in Hackney, East London. Having a knack for accents, highlighted characters that she performed were her Spanish mother, a neighbour who completed his studies in ‘how to hoover’, and an off the wall Jamaican dude. But it was often what was not said that caused an audience reaction. Martinez’s comic timing was second to none.
Although the stories weren’t developed or detailed enough to truly gain an insight into who the real Martinez is, the anecdotal device at least created a human face to Martinez that would heighten the stupidity and ignorance of those around the world who wrote to her, expressing how much they loved her and wanted her. One of the recurring fans was a guy called Eric, presented by Martinez as insipid and glum who desperately tried to reach out to Martinez in at least four emails. The final desperate measure Eric went to was sending a photograph of himself, wearing nothing but a pair of underpants, standing morosely in his door way. But this photo was nothing compared to what Brad Reid sent. You’ll have to see the show to find out. It’s a pretty big deal.
So simple was the show’s production aesthetic, and yet so effective it was in its delivery. Martinez showed she was as much a part of the audience as the audience themselves. It was like watching Jerry Seinfeld on the brink of laughter mid-scene; we felt involved in Martinez’s performance, in her stories and ‘our’ emails. And this is, I think, the success of My Stories, Your Emails, to feel present and enjoy the other end of a hilarious conversation with Ursula Martinez.