Vault Festival preview: This Poo Shall Pass

Welcome to this preview from the Vault Festival 2020.

This Poo Shall Pass runs at the Gift Horse @ The Horse and Stables on 29 February and 1 March at 7pm, and is written and performed by Molly Martian. I asked Molly to tell me a bit more about her show.

1. This Poo Shall Pass is poetry, anxiety, and a lot more. Tell me a bit about where the inspiration came from.

MM: Three years ago I started an Instagram account called poetrybitsdaily – where I post daily poems and, honestly, it really changed my style as a poet.

Where before I was writing with performance in mind and making everything rhyme and trying to be a bit of a broadly John Cooper Clarke or Luke Wright-like figure, the act of writing every day meant that the poems just naturally became shorter and there was less of a conscious process between an idea arriving in my head and it appearing on the page.

I was also writing with the Instagram audience in mind, so over time every poem ended up having a punchline. Anyway, over a three year period I’ve stacked up like 700 poems or something – some pretty great, some not so great. One thing I really like is taking an idea and stretching it as far as it can possibly go.

In the Summer of 2018, I’d noticed that loads of my Instagram poems were set in places with toilets in them (bathrooms, public toilet cubicles etc). I guess because it’s a place where you tend to be alone with your thoughts and you can escape from whatever nonsense is causing you grief. So I decided to stretch the idea to its limit and set a month’s worth of Instagram poems in a toilet cubicle.

It was a challenge to stretch a single toilet visit over 30 poems, but it was also rewarding and I discovered even more of what I found interesting about the space. 

Meanwhile, I was performing all of these little poems live at open mic nights etc, and I was finding that because of their snappy punchlines, they had a stand-up comedy energy I really enjoyed. I’ll probably never go back to longform poems now because I’m too addicted to the efficiency of getting a laugh from a 30 second or minute long idea. 

I had the idea to put a show together of the best ones and asked my friend Laura to produce it. She liked my stuff and she liked the ideas but she was conscious that an hour of tiny poems with nothing to punctuate it would be a bit of a slog. So that’s when I had the idea of putting a toilet on stage.

Eventually it developed into what the show is now, which is little bursts of poetry punctuated by scenes of me sitting on the toilet, partly inspired by that month in 2018. What it makes for is a really weird juxtaposition between a version of me who is very much a performer and a version of me who is quite happy to sit on the toilet away from reality for the rest of her days. 

2. There’s been a lot of discussion around the public toilet as a safe space for both cis and trans women. What’s your take on this?

It’s so difficult to have a take on this. On the one hand, as I’ve said above, the show is pretty much about the public toilet being a safe space for me. On the other hand, well… 

The key thing is that this show was in the pipeline before I came out. Most of the toilet material is based on things that happened to me before I came out. So then I was in this weird situation where I was developing this show about public toilets but the meaning of the public toilet as a space was completely changing for me.

At first I tried to resist thinking about it and insisted that the show had nothing to do with ‘the bathroom debate’. But of course ultimately I realised it had to play into it. And that’s in the show – me sort of fighting against the show being in any way about that. 

As for my take, what I’ll say is that when I first came out I continued to use the men’s loos for a little while (or just held it in!) even though I was clearly presenting as female, purely because I was terrified of the reaction and because I was worried I was infringing on somebody else’s space. But then eventually I was encouraged by friends to use the women’s, and I always do now unless there’s a gender neutral option. And 99% of the time, people are absolutely lovely about it and want you to be comfortable.

I think the amount of noise about this online makes trans people more worried than they should be. In the real world, people don’t really give a shit. You do you. 

3. What’s The Gift Horse like as a venue, and what does it feel like to be performing there?

I’ve only been once, but it’s absolutely lovely, and I’m so excited to perform there! It’s super cosy but big enough that it doesn’t feel too cramped. It’s also nice to be somewhere central! 

Inside the Gift Horse @ Horse & Stables. Courtesy Vault Festival.
Inside the Gift Horse @ Horse & Stables. Courtesy Vault Festival.

4. This Poo Shall Pass seems to play a lot with issues of the public and the private. Will audiences get to know the real Molly Martian?

One of the central jokes of the show is that even though it seems like the most private part of it is the scenes where I am literally wiping my bottom, the really private thing is the slideshow of my real Google searches that plays periodically throughout.

If audiences are going to get to the know the real Molly Martian, it’ll be through that. Because the reality is that everyone shits. We can all imagine what that would look like. It’s more difficult to imagine what’s inside someone’s mobile phone. But then you bare all and usually people laugh along, which is reassuring. 

5. You’re working on a project to visit every city in the UK – how’s that been going?

That’s actually on hold at the moment due to insufficient funds and because this show is happening, but I’m hoping to kick things back off again in a few weeks.

I’ve visited around a third of the cities and so far I’m discovering the very thing I didn’t want to discover – that London actually is the best one after all.

Look, I’m not going to name any names, but there are some rubbish ones. Really rubbish. And there are loads, like Ripon and Ely, that have no place being cities. But, like everything, it’s less about the destinations and more about the journeys. 

6. What do you hope audiences will take away from your show?

I hope they see themselves in it, at least a bit. But really I just hope they laugh. It’s about little more than that for me. I hope they start laughing at the quotidian details of their own lives. I hope they think about me the next time they’re passing an almighty bowel movement. 

Molly Martian in This Poo Shall Pass
Molly Martian in This Poo Shall Pass

My thanks to Molly for her time and answers. You can book for This Poo Shall Pass at the Vaults Festival website.