by Diana Miranda
Laughter is an infiltration strategy, and Liv Ello surely knows it. Part heavy-handed satire, part side-splitting clown show, this is a highly confrontational solo piece. The show uses humour to break down barriers and get audiences to face difficult topics around migration, politics and compassion.
Ello is an invigorating performer with a strong and lasting presence. They dance eagerly, interact with the audience and have a knack for energetic storytelling with great comedic timing and physicality. Their performance has audiences on board from the beginning as they enter the venue buzzing in the dark and moving between the front rows, like the late-night mosquito we know all and hate.
The tin can and vibrator used for this entrance gimmick are just the preamble of Ello’s clever, silly characterisation. Their costume consists of a seemingly hand-made extra pair of arms, shoddy wings, a fur-like belly attached to their clothes and a pair of big, fluorescent goggles on their head. The stagecraft is detailed and clever, such as the mercilessly spraying smoke machine that chokes Ello, and the spotlight they flirt with as a spell-bound fly attracted to light.
Ello’s persistent tendency to point at the theatrical gimmicks gives the show an easy-going, hilarious vibe. For instance, we have the fire skit performed sans fire because “Vaults wouldn’t OK it (rolls eyes)”, and the eye-catching, slick video projections with
prompts that guide and complement Ello’s performance. These are a contrasting blend of clips showing magnified flies, scandalous statistics about housing and migration, and the rhetoric of British politicians.
The figures and data on the screen are displayed way too fast while Ello performs in front of them, making it difficult to keep up. However, this enhances the satire as the statistics presented are a stark contrast to the self-centred personas Ello portrays. The heartbeat tempo of the slides is literally a glimpse of hard-hitting realities, cutting through Ello’s deliberately misleading skits and keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.
Ultimately, Ello captures the chaos of contemporary society with a surprisingly poignant analogy of people as various types of flies. Witty and bold, the script draws hilarious parallels between, for instance, the egotistic and over-excited blowfly
accompanied by video clips of Michael Gove’s cocaine scandal; and the housefly, which starts as a restless techno dancer but spirals into a shady real estate agent trying to sell a garbage property to a young couple.
The performance moves from comedy to a powerful spoken-word monologue that dives into the intricacies of xenophobia, racism, classism, and people’s tendency to be passive bystanders in the face of social issues, like flies passively waiting for the rotting of society. Liv Ello: Swarm highlights the individualism of one fly – just one among billions – but raises the question of whether that “little me”-ness gives the right to numb empathy.
An intelligent critique of British politics and human compassion, it is a thought-provoking piece carrying an important reflection that should be spread far and wide, taking the buzz of this message to as many stages as possible.
Liv Ello: Swarm runs through 10 February.
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