Review: Cult of K*nzo at the Camden People's Theatre
Now, I love clothes. I mean love them. I love buying them, love wearing them, love talking about them. But even I would have been sceptical if you told me you could spin a whole show out of that one time you queued to get into H&M. And yet, Paula Varjack does, and it’s great.
The show Cult of K*nzo explores Varjack’s own shifting relationship with designer clothing – from the initial fascination to the fear of actually entering the hallowed halls of London’s Dior flagship. It also touches on the life of Kenzo Takada, the Japanese designer behind the infamous H&M collaboration which saw Varjack spend hours freezing in a queue outside Westfields.
A writer, filmmaker, and performance artist, Varjack’s work explores the themes of identity, the unsaid and “making the invisible visible”, an approach which won her widespread praise for her previous show, Show Me The Money.
The following day, someone asked what kind of show it was that I had been to see, and I really had a difficult time putting it into words. (Total dream for the person reviewing it, right? Sigh.) It’s not a “play” so to speak, but neither is it 100% a confessional one-woman show. Yes, Varjack does stand and talk - specifically about her lived experiences - but she talks in the third person, perhaps in an effort to make the themes she discusses more relatable to us all. In any case, it is extremely difficult to pigeonhole, but I could respond to the follow up question, “Well…was it good?” with a resounding “yes!”
Varjack herself was charming - eloquent, endearing and clearly very into fashion, which rescues the show from turning into a snide rant on how terrible and snobby the industry is. Touching on class, race, and feeling like an outsider, each of these big topics is pointed to, hinted at, but always in a subtle, gentle way. All in all, the show felt deeply approachable, with no elements in there which could alienate a viewer, pointing instead to feelings we can all understand.
The set was beautifully simple and effective – all of the props were, essentially, fashion packaging. Branded bags from the Kenzo x H&M range, Chanel perfume boxes, tubes of expensive lipstick. If I were feeling really wanky, I might be tempted to see in this some profound comment on how empty and superficial fashion can leave you feeling – but, thankfully for you, I’m not. To the left of the stage was a clothes rail with Varjack’s Kenzo purchases, hanging there like a mute chorus, and I liked the fact that they were a physical part of the show. What is the point of a show about fashion if I don’t get to look at pretty, pretty clothes, eh?
The show jumps from memories of forays into designer shops, to sections from Kenzo Takada’s biography, to the account of waiting in the aforementioned queue outside Westfield. In these sections, Varjack’s props become tiny characters, reminiscent of the way kids play with inanimate objects – which was cute, but I’m glad it didn’t take up more of the show. The most striking bit of the set up for me was the videography. The video drawings were stunning, and I loved how these elements worked with the sound and lighting. All very slick and beautifully done.
I loved having the opportunity to visit a new theatre, the mind boggles at how many of these hidden gems there must be in the city. The Camden People’s Theatre is so incredibly London – full of artsy student types. There was a trio of stylish guys all in black, one of whom was rocking the ‘belly-out-it’s-February’ look in a cropped hoody, and a girl with bleached hair and blue eyebrows. Needless to say, I felt like a particularly plain sore thumb, but the staff were lovely, and the space was great, and I guess if Varjack’s show can teach you anything, it’s not to let worries about your appearance hold you back from things.
Funny and touching, Cult of K*nzo elevates the mundane and the interior into a show worth buying a ticket for. It’s touring the UK now and will be back in London in April – keep an eye out for it in a theatre near you soon.