Fringe Interview: The Two Wrongies
Dancing duo The Two Wrongies have been making waves with their self-titled debut show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Alex Gruzenberg talks to the double-act about the ambitious proposition of being naked on stage without sexualising their act.
There are three types of laughter you hear at the Fringe: laughing at ridiculousness, laughing because of an insight into the nature of the universe, and the laughter of discomfort. They are not mutually exclusive. A ridiculous insight into the nature of the universe can be uncomfortable and hilarious. The most sophisticated works of comedy amalgamate these different types of mirth until they merge. You know, the old cliché about “you’re laughing, but you don’t quite know why”.
The Two Wrongies’ self-titled one-hour piece is exactly that kind of show. Its creators, Avis Cockbill and Janine Fletcher, are the first to admit that their act is not easy to describe. “It’s a mix of dance, comedy, theatre, film and cabaret, presented in a sketch-show format, with a through-line on producing sex education materials.” This is not a direct quote, but rather a fusion of descriptions the girls come up with during our interview. “It’s all about us asking the audience to peek into our world so we can show them snippets of what we might get up to as The Two Wrongies,” explains Janine.
The two performers met at Brighton University, where their dance instructor Liz Agiss used to tell them: “Who are you and what are you gonna bring to the world of dance? How are you gonna use it?” This focus on individuality was a million miles away from the militant approach of ballet schools, where transgressions like dyed hair or a creased tutu were punished severely. On their way to the Fringe, Avis and Janine received the wise counsel of Kim Noble and Stuart Silver, who discerned that their live performance style was defined by everydayness rather than showy technique.
I first heard about the show from Scotsman doyenne and Erotic Review owner Kate Copstick. “It’s extraordinary,” she told me, prolonging the “o” sound for effect. “These women are naked on stage, and it’s not remotely sexual. I’ve never seen anything like it.” In her review, she went as far as to argue: “I think we may have taken the ultimate step in the road to true female emancipation.”
She was referring to the sketch featuring synchronised swimmers without their bathing costumes. To witness it is, indeed, a mind-expanding experience. As Lorraine Chase pointed out on Tuesday’s Edinburgh Tonight, Avis and Janine are so comfortable with their naked bodies on stage that the audience can’t help but feel the same way.
“We always knew that for us it wouldn’t have felt right to sexualise it, because then it becomes something else,” says Avis. “I think there’s almost an innocence behind that nakedness. You just see the shapes and forms of bodies rather than sexiness.” Critics who assume that The Two Wrongies are trying to shock the audience are missing the point. Which is not to say that this double-act is not pushing boundaries. Quite the opposite.
Janine puts it this way: “In the 1940s, for a woman to take her clothes off on stage might’ve been empowering, but in 2011, when you can get so much porn on the internet, it doesn’t make much sense. To me, the idea of getting up on stage and going, ‘I’m naked, but it’s not for your sexual enjoyment,’ now that’s empowering.” Avis agrees, but wonders whether the sketch would’ve worked as well if The Two Wrongies were endowed with bigger breasts and wider hips.
The girls and I discuss the impact of so-called “beauty magazines”, where women are told what to look like and men what they should find attractive. In these publications, ideas on genuine beauty are divorced from nature. What’s worse; the consistent analysis and condemnation of physical imperfections in women is numbing readers to reality.
Avis resents the culture of girls who can’t leave the house without make-up, or men who won’t go down on a girl if she has pubic hair: “There’s nothing wrong with make-up or shaving your pussy per se, but you shouldn’t be forced to do it.” Janine has a similar take on the issue: “I love men, I’m heterosexual, I have a boyfriend, I like men finding me attractive. But you know what? I have pubic hair and camel toe and I find that funny, and I think you can, too, and still find me attractive.”
Silliness is very much the catalyst that allows the show’s nudity to work outside of a sexual context. Before the synchronised swimmers number, the audience are exposed to nose picking, foot licking and boob squeezing. “We find the comedy in our own bodies, and each other’s,” admits Janine. “We don’t always share that, but in this number, we do. When we run and our boobs jiggle, we find that funny. Not everyone will, but we do. On a personal level, I’ve had boyfriends who haven’t enjoyed that I find my nakedness and their nakedness comical at times. And I’m always frustrated that they can’t just embrace it.”
As humorous as they may appear, such discussions exist within a greater sociological framework. At a TED talk in February 2010, Sam Harris asked his listeners to “consider the great problem of women’s bodies: what to do about them?” On one slide, he showed a procession of women wearing burkas; “cloth bags” imposed by religious dogma that keep male lust at arm’s length. On another, he had a mosaic of western men’s magazines, populated by airbrushed women in bikinis striking titillating poses. Neither arrangement seems excessively sensible, but where is the middle ground? Janine hits the nail on the head: “The trick is not playing to the stereotype of the male gaze.” The answer to Harris’ question is ever so simple: Women’s bodies belong to women. There shouldn’t be any rules about what constitutes womanhood, especially if they are dictated by male desire. Ideas on female beauty must emerge from within. The Two Wrongies are not desexualising their bodies as much as bypassing the assumption that a naked woman is an inherently sexual object.
Accolades have not followed the show everywhere. “Love it or hate it, people always respond strongly,” says Avis. “No one thinks it’s middle-of-the-road entertainment, which is good.” Janine suggests that the double act have found their audience difficult to locate. Coming to Edinburgh was an attempt to determine the response to their work. Whilst watching the performance, I was moved and amused and touched and charmed, without ever quite knowing in what order. Apart from the nude sketch, highlights include the black dress that envelops the performers and an air sex scene that will have you cringing with delight. Clearly, some pieces work better than others, but this is very much a work in progress. “We know that it has no meaty substance, that we’re only scratching the surface of what it can be, and we’re happy with that. For now.” Believe you me, these girls are onto something special.
The Two Wrongies. Written and performed by Avis Cockbill and Janine Fletcher. Assembly George Square, Edinburgh. 5-28 August (not 15 or 22), 19:00. £9-10 (£8-9 concessions) www.thetwowrongies.co.uk