Rightly or wrongly, there’s one thing most people will know going into Adam Scott-Rowley’s one-man show, This Is Not Culturally Significant – so let’s get it out the way first. Yes, he’s naked. No, it’s not weird. Uncomfortably explicit on occasion, yes; the first couple of minutes are unforgiving and throw us entirely in the deep end. It definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But surprisingly quickly the nudity not only stops being an issue; it starts to feel like a necessary part of the performance.
To make sense of that, let’s go back a bit. This Is Not Culturally Significant, we learn in the programme, began life as a series of caricatures that grew and developed, and ultimately began to link together. There’s an American porn star and her lonely father, an abusive husband and his timid wife, a homeless Scottish woman, a bitter theatre producer who’s being ousted in favour of Andrew Lloyd Webber… and several others, all of whom challenge us and each other simply by being themselves in a world that doesn’t quite know what to do with them.
And every one of those characters is played by Adam Scott-Rowley in an astonishing virtuoso performance that sees him transforming from one persona to the next, sometimes abruptly, sometimes slowly. These changes become more frequent as the show goes on and his characters increasingly jostle for centre stage. Posture, personality, voice and accent are always absolutely distinct; it’s clear he knows each of the characters intimately, and his embodiment of them is so skilful that by the end of the 50 minutes we feel we’re starting to know them too.
And so back to the nudity, which was initially introduced as a way to add vulnerability to the characters, but ends up serving a far more practical purpose: with no need for costume changes, the shifts are not only easier and quicker but a lot more effective; it would have been difficult to believe in a bag lady dressed in the same clothes as a posh racist or a spiritualist lecturer, and pausing to change would interrupt the flow. Seeing someone so entirely exposed – in every sense – also gives the show an extra intensity, and ironically it ends up being the one naked guy in the room who’s most at ease.
It’s not only the nakedness that keeps us on edge; this is a show you experience rather than enjoy, and the abruptness of the character changes, flashing lights, loud noises, and one exquisitely awkward moment where it’s not clear if audience participation is required (I still don’t know, if I’m honest), all contribute to ensure we never get too comfortable. Yet there are moments of dark humour too, with much of the laughter fuelled as much by surprise or recognition as by amusement.
I can honestly say This Is Not Culturally Significant is unlike any show I’ve seen before – but I can just as honestly say that’s not only because it’s performed nude. If everyone goes in knowing that one thing, let’s hope they come out talking about Adam Scott-Rowley’s extraordinary performance, and acknowledging that the nudity enhances something that’s already pretty special – with or without clothes.
This Is Not Culturally Significant is at The Bunker until 3rd June.