Free Admission review at Soho Theatre, London – ‘searching and savvy’
Ursula Martinez is building a wall on stage. It’s hypnotic to watch. She slaps down lines of grey cement and then carefully places white bricks on top.
By her own free admission Martinez is a performer more accustomed to breaking down barriers, not building them. From her suggestive La Soiree handkerchief act to her equally naked confessional shows, Martinez has never been afraid to reveal herself. In some ways Free Admission is another veil dropped in this career striptease. The show takes the form of a list of what concerns her from anal cleanliness to racism, mortality and, sometimes, her tax return. But in other ways, both physically and psychologically, it feels more guarded than usual, more protective of herself, more tentative.
This vulnerability is most evident when she talks about her father’s death as the result of neglect in an understaffed NHS ward; Martinez’s family sued the hospital. It’s a move she says her Dad would have hated. With this more controversial material, Martinez is back in more familiar territory: a leftwing, feminist, lesbian performance artist suing Clement Attlee’s bastion of socialism? It’s in these grey areas that Martinez thrives. As she hums the racist school rhymes she used to sing in the ‘70s she dares us to judge, silently asking us if age and history can pardon such bigotry.
As a comedian and cabaret star she’s capable of making us laugh too. And it’s this quality that makes Free Admission such a searching, savvy piece: never too sarcastic or saccharine it is Martinez’s ability to straddle irony and genuine emotional inquiry that enables the audience to ask those questions of themselves too.