Culture Editor Olivia Boyce reviews ‘Them & Us’, an entertaining and often challenging evening with artist Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry is a world-renowned contemporary artist, a celebrated creator of documentaries, and winner of the prestigious Turner Prize in 2003 for one of his signature pots. He recently, and somewhat controversially, gave a distinguished series of Reith Lectures, and has previously been ranked by the Daily Telegraph as one of the ‘100 most powerful people in British culture’, having had exhibitions at galleries including the Barbican Centre and the British Museum. Now, he is touring with ‘Them & Us’, an evening of comic quips, personal anecdotes and a glimpse of the inner workings of the art world, featuring a great deal of insight and even a few costume changes.
There are very few things that don’t fall into Perry’s sights over the two or so hours that he is on stage. He laments the state of politics, turning his ire briefly to Trump as well as the British political system. The evening is called ‘Them & Us’, an idea he visits repeatedly in order to suggest the dangers and hypocrisies of potentially divisive rhetoric. This leads to the biggest theme of the evening, with the entire show culminating in a rather clever Brexit analogy which, whilst perhaps the product of two groan-worthy flag-related puns, is further brought home when the final vote of the night is ‘remain or leave’ at this present moment, to which the audience overwhelmingly responds remain. This is especially poignant when the statistic appears as Perry exits, of Birmingham’s actual average voting percentages in the referendum – 49.5% remain, 50.5% Leave.
Voting is in fact one of the central themes of the night. 1200 members of the audience are given electronic keypads, and throughout the evening have the opportunity to vote on various questions, profound and mundane. This is often straightforward, such as asking the audience to pick which of several options is the most tasteful or tasteless (Net Curtains!), but also became another way for Perry to encourage his audience to look inward. He discusses from the off the desire to challenge his audience, to make them look at the darker parts of the self. There were moments where he had votes for whether something was Labour or Tory, others where he had the audience act as honorary members of the Royal Academy art team and judging works for their summer show, leading to the unfortunate rejection of one of Perry’s own pieces, much to his sarcastic ire. It makes for an interesting and oft uncomfortable dynamic throughout the evening, but also proves to be very different, and leads to many introspective moments that accomplish Perry’s goal.
It also proves to be a sometimes very personal evening for Perry. We see some of the travels of Alan Measles, Perry’s famous teddy bear, including a visit to the This Morning studio, as well as several of his pieces, including many of his celebrated pottery works, but we also hear of the challenges of his youth, particularly those he faced as a result of his cross-dressing as well as his unconventional art styles. It makes for an eclectic and enjoyable mix, and provides a glimpse into the complex life Perry has led.
‘Them & Us’ is an interesting evening of insight into the artist that is Grayson Perry. More information on the remaining tour dates can be found here.