Shit Theatre’s Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole do a very convincing job of suggesting that their work is slapdash and thrown together. They make it seem like they accidentally happened upon their subjects – and there may be a sliver of truth in this – but their shows are always more layered and intelligent than they initially appear.
Their 2017 show Letters to Windsor House is a case in point. While genuinely hilarious, it was also one of the most incisive explorations of the psychological impact of the housing crisis around, pinpointing the sense of precariousness, transience and instability that comes from renting in London.
Their entertaining if less ambitious follow-up, Dollywould was a love letter to Dolly Parton that also touched on mortality and what it is to be a woman in the entertainment industry.
Their new show is their best yet. Biscuit and Mothersole were invited by a friend to go to Malta to make a show for Valetta European City of Culture. They joke that they agreed to do this for the free holiday, but their superficially flippant tone masks a palpable anger at the injustices and blinkered thinking they encountered.
While they do a good impression of two people messing about and generally having a laugh, they have excellent journalistic instincts and, through a distinctive mix of video snippets and song, they end up discussing Malta’s role in the migrant crisis (it’s where a large number of refugees from Libya end up), the trade in Maltese passports – available to anyone with a spare £650,000 – and the work of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist who was killed by a car bomb in 2017.
The performance space has been decked out like a pub, or to be more precise The Pub, the expat hangout in Valetta where Oliver Reed breathed his last after ingesting a monumental amount of booze.
Directed by Adam Brace, the show is a masterclass in (just about) controlled chaos. Wearing their trademark face-paint, Biscuit and Mothersole crowd-surf and sing sea shanties.
They teach the audience the Maltese for “penis” (it’s “zop” if you’re interested). They dole out rum, and appear to knock back a fair bit of it themselves. But underneath the irreverent surface, there are serious undercurrents about artistic compromise, friendship and loneliness, Brexit and the perils of turning your back on the world.
It’s also a structurally intricate show, stuffed with visual jokes and call-backs to things that appeared insignificant or silly to begin with. This is political theatre at its most raucous – funny, furious, daft and anarchic – but with an underlying power.