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Peggy Shaw: Ruff

Part of this year's Behaviour festival, Lorna Irvine reviews 'a brave, bold beautiful show'.

Legendary New York performer Peggy Shaw had a stroke at the start of 2011. This one-woman show (co-produced with Shaw's long-term friend/collaborator Lois Weaver), which combines songs, autobiographical monologue, dance routines and medical insight, sees Shaw confronting the stroke which nearly killed her and simultaneously flipping the bird to it.

Her virtual band 'perform' behind her on a screen, 'interrupting' her with flamboyant solos. When she does eventually get to sing, she covers Brel's “Jackie," re-imagining it as “Frank”--and it's a deadpan gem. Leonard Cohen's “I'm Your Man” is also aired, but Shirley Ellis' “The Name Game” sets a more playful tone and brilliantly, cock-rock in the style of AC/DC with a screamed “Hokey Pokey,” lampooning their macho posturing.

Shaw is fearless, a one-woman CGI effect against a green backdrop. Comic timing and candid tales of love, sexuality, loss and courage in the face of life's discreetly-hidden banana skins is what she is all about.

“I try to adjust the picture, but the print is out of sync,” she says of her condition. Sometimes her delivery is laconic, reminiscent of beat poetry; sometimes she's as frisky as a lamb. Often though, she is simply hilarious, as with her impersonation of Marlon Brando method-acting while eating an orange, riffing on looking like Sean Penn or telling an anecdote about cooking a Thanksgiving turkey on acid.

Theatre and music is all about connectivity, after all and tonight, Ruff provides just that. It is about more than simply surviving. Shaw represents the triumph of the spirit. It makes you want to hug everyone you love and reminds you that we are all the same underneath: too frail; too strong, too silly, too smart, too human. A brave, bold, beautiful show.

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