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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Ursula Martinez's naked ambition
Ursula Martinez
Show Off was written with Mark Whitelaw
There is a moment in Ursula Martinez's act Show Off in which she asks the audience to watch a video of various Edinburgh passers-by reciting some lines.

She then offers a pound coin to an audience member who can correctly identify whether they are actors or not.

It's not as easy as it sounds - some actors are so good they can act like they are "real people", while some civilians are natural actors.

Show Off poster
Martinez dispenses with 'artifice and her clothes'
It is such a good act for Edinburgh during the festival when the streets are paved with performers of all sorts.

But Martinez does the act everywhere to equal effect.

Show Off is about Martinez herself - but really it's about the fact that we are all acting somehow, most of the time.

Martinez consistently uses "real people" in her shows and is often credited with having created a new theatrical genre.

In A Family Outing her parents, stark naked, were on stage.

In Show Off, an ex-lover - Carmen - appears, though fully dressed.

So is the Martinez we see on stage the real Martinez.

"Can you be yourself on stage - can you be yourself and at the same time be on stage?," muses Martinez, hurriedly adding that this makes her seem far too self-conscious.

"It is a different person on stage - it is a show - but there is a recurring theme of identity."

My dad on the other hand just absolutely got a taste for it and he keeps pestering me with 'when are you going to write me another piece

Ursula Martinez

Martinez toured A Family Outing - with parents on board of course - for nearly three years.

As I talk to Ursula, her mother sips coffee placidly in the background, so clearly they remain close.

But Martinez says the experience has had its downside.

"My mum is quite relieved that the piece is over and she's relieved to be here, not in a show," she says.

"My dad on the other hand just absolutely got a taste for it and he keeps pestering me with 'when are you going to write me another piece'.

"It gave him a taste of something he really liked and then whipped the carpet out from under his feet."

The audience at Show Off also get the carpet whipped out from under them.

The act includes a spoof "after show discussion", but Martinez hands out ready made questions.

However some of the audience were intent in being chatty, adding a bit more than expected.

"It was almost like the audience were thinking 'oh we can just talk here'," says Martinez, adding that the show is in fact very tightly scripted though it seems very informal and ad-hoc.

Martinez is more in control of what appears on stage than you might think.

A show in which the actor strips off twice in the space of an hour would seem to be anything but controlled, though Martinez claims that the nudity hardly merits comment.

"It's nothing for me, and it's funny that not many people talk about it and in reviews and things people never mention it," she says.

The two nudity sections in the piece are very different and I'm interested in that

Ursula Martinez

It could be just me, but I did not forget the opening strip tease nor the later - more disturbing - nakedness, when Martinez seems extremely vulnerable.

"The two nudity sections in the piece are very different and I'm interested in that," says Martinez.

"In the striptease I take all my clothes off but its powerful, not vulnerable at all because you almost build a protective wall with your own sexuality.

"But in the second section its totally naked in every sense."

Because Martinez acts so much like a "real person" and we know that side-kick Carmen is a real ex-lover, it seems uncomfortable to see her strip off.

Some people laugh, albeit nervously, others make vague soothing noises.

Martinez says this mixed feeling is exactly what she wants from her audience.

But the audience does not always behave as expected.

In the section of the show where an audience member is given a pound coin for correctly identifying actors, the woman picked gets everyone right.

"It turns out she was an actor and I don't think that has happened before," laughs Martinez.

"She was very good and very confident, I hope it does not happen again as my budget won't stretch that far."

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