Leah Shelton’s Bitch on Heat leaves it’s audience panting. This is slap-in-the-face performance art that cuts a carving knife sized chunk right out of the patriarchy. This frantic, high-camp solo performance work is set to a vintage soundtrack of found audio by Kenneth Lyons, expertly lip-synced and realised on stage by the fearless Shelton.
Director Ursula Martinez has cleverly crafted a world that transforms from a confining Grecian palace into a confusing whiplash of seedy clubs and high class hotel rooms, aided by an ingenious and evolving set design by Shelton that features a spinning pole, drowning pool, revolving bed, and magically appearing sex dolls.
The costuming and props are expertly used – there’s no fluff here friends, every choice that makes its way to the stage is clever and layered with a multiplicity of meaning. The drama and horror of the work is highlighted with a dramatic and effective lighting design by Jason Glenwright.
What really shines though is Shelton’s skill as a performer, she has the audience wrapped around her vinyl sheathed finger from early on and manages to disgust us and break our hearts in an instant.
Shelton is both Pandora and the monster awakened; a sex doll, sex-columnist, sex slave; a sexual predator and a sex starved dog rolled into one. But this show isn’t about sex. It’s about rules, and as an audience we joyfully laugh and cry as we feel them break on stage. If feminism were a religion, I like to think Bitch on Heat is what church would be like.
Review: Cj Fraser-Bell
Walking into the packed house of the Happy Yess I was struck by the large white podium on stage. A cloth bound statue to purity and cleanliness. Going off the promo image – cocktail dress, raven hair, a bloodied slab of meat, licking her lips, oh, and wearing a dog cone – I knew that the edifice was to be torn down.
What followed was a series of vignettes lip synced to a soundtrack of movie dialogue and self help records that skewered the idea of women as playthings for men. From the story of Pandora, a recording of a woman explaining the traps and machinations of dating, Frank Sinatra’s Ain’t That a Kick In The Head, and that speech from Magnolia all the scenes were superbly curated to exemplify the theme.
Subtle? No. The sledgehammer (or maybe Wrecking Ball as the Miley Cyrus routine was given it’s own spin around the pole) like repetition of the theme was exhausting. But that’s the point. There is no getting away from the objectification of women pervasive in today’s society.
And at the end of it all there is Shelton, tired, and slumped amongst the debris of all the props and costumes. And as she rises to give the final image – one that was filled with poignancy, hope and legacy it gave us at least a small bit of respite that things might work out all right. A hilarious, unrelenting, yet ultimately uplifting assault on the sex war.
Review: Scott Gooding
Give patriarchy enough rope to hang itself with— that’s the principle behind Leah Shelton’s satirical smackdown of a lip-sync show, Bitch on Heat.
Surrounded by Corinthian columns, solo performer Shelton looks like chiffon-wrapped Greek god— except that underneath the chiffon, she’s a Barbie constructed out of latex, wearing a gag that looks like plump BJ lips. Lips that are meant to be seen and penetrated, but lips that are not meant to be heard.
Within this heightened caricature of femininity, Shelton begins to use this mouth to lip-sync to pop culture audio samples about how women need to respect cock and about how, for a woman to end up in a situation where she is raped, she must have said ‘yes’ in her heart.
Shelton, herself, doesn’t need to say anything – through visuals and her lip syncing, she lets the sublime idiocy of sexism lambaste itself.
For the misogynists who show up and are too stupid to pick up that they’re being called stupid, the show will be sexy, until it isn’t. For the women who show up and have never felt like sex is a currency they needed use to survive, the show might feel irrelevant to this era, and like it’s making the same point over and over.
But experiencing sexism is repetitive, and enduring it over and over is a ritual. For every cis woman, trans woman, and non-binary person who has had the patriarchy hold a door open for them– only to have the patriarchy smack that ass on its way in– Bitch on Heat will feel like a cathartic church service.
Because Bitch on Heat is here to hold space with people who have felt, and will feel again in life, like sex dolls. Bitch on Heat is here to say to those people: you are not alone.
The reviews of Bitch on Heat are published in association with Darwin Festival as part of their Front Row Industry Development initiative. The 2019 Darwin Festival continues to 25 August. For more information, visit: www.darwinfestival.org.au for details.
Image: Leah Shelton stars in Bitch on Heat – photo by Sarah Walker