The last that we saw of the performance poet Molly Naylor was in 2010, when she appeared at the Pleasance Zoo with her innovative show “Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You.” Naylor had been literally blown up – in the 7/7 bombings – but the depth and exhilaration of her play made its testimony seem merely like colour. It was oddly inconsequential whether the play was autobiographical or fictional, or at least to the audience.
Naylor’s latest play/monologue/recital “My Robot Heart” professes to begin autobiographically, with Naylor explaining how her performance responds to recently breaking up with a boyfriend. She seems to be inspired only by disasters. Yet the real Naylor is like a compere and she will merely introduce fictional characters, whose job it is to tell or at least reflect something of her story.
Tychy caught the last performance of “My Robot Heart” (at the Pleasance Courtyard), rendering this review completely useless in all practical respects. It is time to end Tychy@ the Fringe – I should have quit several days ago. The city is now deflating like an old party balloon; most of the venues are being handed back to the rats or the students; and you’ll soon be able to buy beer for three pounds again. But let us look to “My Robot Heart” for a stirring finish.
Naylor broods over a news report about a Japanese laboratory which had programmed a robot to love. The experiment was both a success and a disaster: the robot gave an unfortunate technician a four hour hug which almost killed her. Amusingly, The List refers to this as a “real-life” experiment, whilst The Scotsman describes it as the “inspiration” for Naylor’s story. Naylor next recounts how love is a neurological condition, caused by the release of specified brain chemicals. This may well be true, but if so then it would be possible to top up our own flagging love levels with pills.
The moral of Naylor’s story is that love is so mechanically determined that it is most perfectly manifested in the behaviour of robots. Humanity, by contrast, requires tactical compromise, and an acceptance that life is often a bit crap. Naylor’s characters narrate the death of a wedding: the bride runs away before the ceremony, and as with the heroine of “Whenever I Get Blown Up,” her fortunes are transformed after an animal is run over by a car (this time a big dog rather than a deer.) Naylor’s performances are like ancient pagan ceremonies – there always has to be a blood sacrifice.
Yet Naylor is a lovely, warm character and it is as if nothing really cynical has ever occurred to her. If she ever said the word “fuck” it would sound like the name of a flower. She is rather like a Blue Peter presenter for adults. Her performance has a superficially mainstream quality: its dippy characters and amusing incidents may seem to be familiar from those romantic comedies which feature Hugh Grant, or wishy-washy BBC sitcoms. She has brought along the very soundtrack to this world, in the persons of the indie popsters The Middle Ones, who look and sound fiendishly cute and twee.
The Middle Ones seem to perk up at a line about Bakewell Tarts tasting like My Little Ponies. They no doubt sense that Naylor is talking about them. Yet there is actually something shrewd and unpredictable at the back of it all. Naylor claims to have discovered their music after breaking up with her boyfriend, and so it was quite natural for her to approach them and physically incorporate them into a show about the breakup. The breakup is not over because the performers have stepped out of the soundtrack to perform the soundtrack on repeat. Morrissey was presumably unavailable, but he is represented on stage by a prominent photograph. Perhaps Naylor was wary of inviting him – he would make an infernal fuss and it would probably end in a lawsuit.
I am nice and lovely, Naylor smiles at us. I am sensible and credible – I know what heartbreak is like, she seems to add. But she smiles at us again, reassuring us that in her pleasant homespun world, heartbreak is okay. Or rather it is as inevitable as the end of the Fringe.
[Tychy will resume sometime in September. Ed.]