I like to bring theatre criticism back to the body. It feels simpler to me, more honest than faking a neutrality which doesn’t exist. I experience shows in body first and mind second, in a wrenchingly physical manifestation of my subjectivity. How else can I write or respond to work that is presented to me at a specific time and place? I need my writing to reflect how a show makes me feel inside my skin, how it makes my gut twinge, my arms prickle, how this queer Asian body fits inside it. Give me the feeling before the understanding or I’m not interested. Express something that seeps through the gaps in the words.
I loved dressed. I loved it for its openness, its kindness, its ambition, its flat-out fucking weirdness. It feels so deep and rich and jagged and fluid and 3D that I can’t hold it all in my hands at once or it’ll slip out of my fingers. I loved the clumsiness, the clunkiness, the fact that it was so openly, comfortably imperfect – unfinished in some way too.
Maybe I put such trust in my body’s reaction to theatre because on some level I believe that my body is not truly my own. Maybe theatre is a space where I can, for a moment, take stock of how I feel, validate the emotions running up and down my skin. If you are a woman then your body does not belong to you. Lydia’s body was torn away from her, made someone else’s, not hers, not the body she knew and understood, and she still made it hers again.
It starts with women onstage, dancing and moving in identical monochrome outfits. It feels like a This Egg show I’ve seen before – one where they’re self-consciously goofy and constantly aware of their audience and shifting perceptions. They are strong and capable in their bodies, they know what they can do and how far to push them. And then the tone shifts very suddenly and once again we are reminded that our bodies’ power can be snuffed out in seconds.
And then it shifts again, into something far less recognisable – not a typical autobiographical show, not an unpicking of trauma in the way you might expect. dressed. acknowledges it – “is it too abstract?” they ponder at the show’s close, before flinging themselves with wild abandon into a final dance. To me, it feels perfectly lucid. The four women climb into ornate costumes sewn by Lydia and it’s like they’ve climbed out of her head, these mutated, distorted versions of femininity that have been twisted out of shape in the shockwaves following her assault. It’s this warped cabaret which plays out like a fever dream, a sudden, deliberately distancing evocation of pain.
And then it comes back to the body, because it always has to come back to the body. The show is filled with moments of touch and support – they carry each other across the stage, brush each other’s shoulders in solidarity, squeeze hands, lay heads in laps, sweep strands of hair off each other’s faces. They shift from four bodies to one and back again, liquid in their movements.
dressed. is on at Underbelly until 26th August, as part of the 2018 Edinburgh fringe. More info here.