“Big Finish” at Battersea Arts Centre

Tom Bolton in south London
18 March 2023

As Figs in Wigs point out, it takes a lot of development and rehearsal to create this level of chaos. Big Finish is about endings: humanity hitting a climate iceberg, theatre driving over a funding cliff, the company doing its final show. The five Figs have built a career which is, in many ways enviable. They are highly respected in the fringe theatre scene if, as they note, they have never actually won a prize. After ten shows, starting out in the queer cabaret scene and graduating to the heights of Battersea Arts Centre’s Grand Hall, Figs are respected and beloved. They also have a total of £5,000 in their bank account, and run a game of musical beach towels to decide who gets paid each night. If there is no money or future in theatre, why do they keep coming back?


Photo credit: Rosie Powell.


The Figs – Ray Gammon, Suzanna Hurst, Sarah Moore, Rachel Porter, and Alice Roots – are experts in controlled stupidity, very silly things taken very seriously, which are not nearly as silly as they would like us to think. Their performance style is sometimes reminiscent of contemporaries such as Sh!t Theatre, with whom they share a homemade aesthetic. This includes building sets and costumes from whatever they can afford. Crab costumes, for example, are red bike helmets, puffer jackets, and skirts made from plastic sheets. The setting is blue PVC and silver foil ducting. They read a last will and testament, which bequeaths all the detritus from past shows to the UK’s great venues, attempting to save it from landfill.

This is where Figs really come into their own. Behind a consistent front of incompetence, they deliver a comprehensive state-of-the-nation report on the performing arts and on radical expression, filtered through their own experience. Their conclusions are not encouraging. Who would choose theatre in a country that not only fails to support its own cultural heritage, but treats it as the enemy, where making a living is not an option? Figs stage a succession of hilarious set pieces as they work through their, and our, futures. A Kraftwerk-esque crab dance takes creatures who adapt to survive climate disaster and turns them into symbols for performers who want to escape the arts, but cannot. A crab bucket has no lid, because the crabs keep each other inside. Online prop purchasing comes to the fore again when the Figs, in golf wear and dinosaur masks, manoeuvre a golf buggy precariously around the stage. They become a string quartet who scrape out the Titanic theme, very badly, over and over, sitting on weird exo-skeleton stools, strapped to their legs.

As they say, it takes a lot of work to create such barely controlled anarchy. The show culminates in two fabulously silly and clever scenes. The Figs are interviewed by a “professor” who turns out to be the real thing: Jen Harvie, Professor of Contemporary Theatre and Performance, their real-life tutor at Queen Mary University of London. Reality and performance become indistinguishable as she conducts a hilariously awkward interrogation of their careers. Then, the company performs a final, absurd, contemporary dance sequence in wetsuits, sliding all over the foamy floor, elbows in faces.

If Big Finish is Figs in Wigs’ final show, it is a triumph. They wear their physical performance skills, strange creative imaginations, and complete commitment very lightly, but they are clever, original, and hugely entertaining. It probably isn’t their farewell because, as they say, how else can they make a difference. But work like theirs, which is precisely what we need in times of unanswered questions and uncertain futures, is under threat like never before. Big Finish is the first production in Battersea Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary season, and the perfect show to illustrate what south London’s most essential venue is about, and why it matters. In its Grand Hall, Figs in Wigs are remaking theatre in their own image, and it is fun, generous, surreal, and brilliant.