When it was released on audiences last year, as part of Steakhouse Live, Lucy Hutson’s Britney Spears Custody Battle Vs Zeus in Swan Rape Shocker was very much a work in progress – not merely because it lacked the length needed to proclaim a piece finished these days, but because its ideas were still on their way to being fully sharpened.
As scratch ideas go however, Britney Spears Custody Battle… was clear in its intentions and saw Hutson attempt to decide which of the many political convictions on offer she needs to follow in order to be decent and ethical: is not drinking Starbucks enough, or do you also need to get involved in reducing your carbon footprint? The assertion that ethics are most easily employed when they already fit in with your lifestyle was somewhat of a tagline to a show that along the way also visited the artist’s flirtations with religion, gender performativity and quite a few other subjects.
Fast forward eight months later and Britney Spears Custody Battle… has grown into a bigger scale piece and the question of political self-branding is still in play, although the focus has shifted more firmly towards political activity, rather than rhetorics. Hutson proclaims herself a somewhat confused former activist, who has to juggle modern-day time constraints with her wish to be an outstanding citizen.
The stage is still filled with dozens of My Little Pony dolls, all named Lucy, alluring simultaneously to the loneliness of solo work and the vacuum in which we all ultimately have to define our political personas, but the main prop is now a placard declaring a search for a worthy cause which doesn’t but might as well read ‘performance artist WLTM a solid issue’.
Added to the narrative is also a sampling of the general population asked to pitch Hutson a cause that she can devote herself to. The survey invokes horrid but usual suspects simplified to hollow single-word definitions – Fascism and discrimination both feature and prompt an anti EDL protest and a decision to boycott a club. It’s more relevant however for its blatant naivety. In pretending she is willing to decide her affiliations based on who in her surroundings can put forward the best case for their pet hate or passion, Hutson throws a bait to the audience, as if to check who is so blinded by the notion of activism, rather than its essence, to believe the logic of the endeavour.
Britney Spears Custody Battle.. kicks off with the artist reciting a collection of cheesy chat-up lines to the audience, before asking everyone to mark how enamoured they were. This matter is returned to, seemingly as a way to inject some comic relief into all the politics, but it might also add an extra hue to the starkly activist palette of the piece.
Through all the worthy causes, important topics and corporate world navigation, Hutson is perhaps not trying to be conscientious as much as liked, accepted and appreciated. In her world, it would appear this calls for being able to label and define one’s social attitudes through action. She may not yet be able to decide if this kind of type-casting is acceptable or not; this constant mind-changing induces an unhealthy amount of dramaturgically not entirely coherent shifts into the piece.
At times it’s uncertain whether what’s occurring is an attempt to confuse the audience, or whether it’s the artist’s own lack of dedication to any side of the picket line that’s making a mark. Strangely enough though, this piece is earnest enough to get away with it: canonically theatrical it might not be, but resembling the chaos of real-life attempts at political and social consistency it certainly is.