Ass Kombat

As theatre, Ass Kombat has high aspirations. It opens by first locating itself within the many-millennia-old tradition of art, before pivoting to ponder on the influence of art on society, particularly with respect to gender and gendered violence. The implication, from there, is clear. Ass Kombat is art which seeks to redress a host of grave and persistent social ills: male violence against women, body-shaming, sex-negativity, sexual objectification, inequality of opportunity, and many other such injustices which might be credited to the patriarchy.

The way forward, this show posits, is through the arsehole. As a greater society, we have an insistent focus on genitalia which determines far too much of our experience from cradle to grave. Instead, we should categorise all humans by respect to their sphincters. Do away with gender, and any other such divisive social constructs, and realise we are all one people with a shared ring experience.

This is a show which lives and dies on the basis of its execution. It is, after all, examining and reacting to thoroughly-explored intellectual debates, and the measure of its thrusts, cuts and parries are found in whether, or to what extent, the show marks or disarms its audience.

The good: these performers are perfectly capable of realising their strange and interesting character work. In the opening scene they are slapstick, clown-like figures, approximating Buster Keaton not only in their dress and mannerisms, but also in their movements and exaggerated silent-talk (which effectively reproduces the effect and artifice of early cinema). In this respect, Ass Kombat adopts a style whereby it creates, and then immediately breaks, the illusion of artistic conventions, in the same way the show is about dismantling gendered conventions. It is a layered approach, and one which works to make our social mores seem suitably alien and, therefore, alterable.

The bad? The show regularly delves into extended asides, heavy on dialogue, in which the main characters express and argue their intellectual and moral positions. They effectively utilise slapstick humour to liven up these moments, but it is not enough to rescue some tiresome and over-wrought declarations. This problem, which is looming in itself, was exacerbated by some technical difficulties: the dialogue itself is in Spanish, and the sub-titles, projected onto the screen behind them, were faint and difficult to read. But the biggest problem was simply that this show is very much Tell, Don't Show, and has a lack of faith in its audience's ability to interpret and process the message inherent in the drama.

Ass Kombat is a failed marriage of message and execution, but the message is nevertheless compelling and the performances are strong (if not consistently entertaining). As theatre, it's worth seeking out, particularly for the profound and memorable ending, but in many important respects it falls short of the target it sets for itself.

★★½