wrecking ball

Wrecking Ball

Birmingham Rep Door


GEMMA Paintin and James Stenhouse are co-artistic directors of Action Hero and are a wonderful duo on stage.

Their performance art piece Wrecking Ball premiered in 2016 and is now enjoying a national tour. It is their first on stage work, which highlights the many ways in which a single image or idea can be used as manipulation.

In an influential piece, they describe the way in which those with influence can take a huge advantage over the impressionable. They take on the roles as a photographer and model to create an imaginary world in the hope of making the audience believe that it is in fact incredibly real.

Their clever and playful script is an analysis on the way in which people are manipulated by modern culture. Stenhouse takes on the role as the cool and laid back photographer, while Paintin is the fashionable model. As their dialogue unfolds, there is a striking conflict between the two characters.

Stenhouse, as the photographer, tells us that the pineapple prop is not merely a pineapple, but a representation of something else, or that the ice cream, which is in fact made of mashed potato, is an incredibly delicious treat.

Paintin, as the confused model, has no choice but to succumb to the subtle manipulation of the prompts from Stenhouse, until she finds it easier to ‘play along’ and give the photographer what he wants.

This is a direct correlation of the realities of modern life, where through the filters of social media and our online presence, we choose to post the highlights of our lives, making it easy for others to believe a false reality.

Similarly, we are constantly fed messages from those with influence with such conviction to make us believe their beliefs are true, to the point where the belief system is embedded into our own thoughts.

Through their clever and metaphorical skill of questioning the fine line between hard fact and imagination in a funny and playful way, there is a dark message behind their cool exterior.

They describe their work as ‘a play about consent’. Within the genre of performance art, we are made to think about the hidden meaning behind their metaphorical dialogue and unique style. Although Stenhouse offered us beers during the pre-set and assured us that there was ‘no pressure’ to conform to the conventional way an audience would, his character came across as highly reserved and closed as he said this. 

Perhaps this was the first clue to show that people do not always say what they mean. His performance style was quite unusual, which was exactly how it was meant to be. Paintin and Stenhouse would frequently sit in the auditorium to chat with us, and at one point a script was handed to an audience member to be involved in the dialogue.

With a clever and thoughtful script and a thought-provoking style of performance, Paintin and Stenhouse are great players in the performance art genre. In their play rich in metaphor and hidden meaning, they allow us to think further than the images merely presented on the surface. The couple give their analysis on living life today and the ease of manipulation from all angles. To 04-02-17

Elizabeth Halpin


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