“Are you ready for this jelly?” asks the press release. “Are you ready for this jelly?” asks the programme. Are three white people really going to stage a play about media manipulation of women and centre it on a song made famous by three black women? I ask myself. Will they mention weaves? Will they talk about skin lightening? Coloured contact lenses? Eye-lid surgery? Yes to my first question and nope, nope, nopedy nope to the rest.
Other more obvious issues around the systematic objectification of women however, are hashed out fairly well by Plunge Theatre in this disappointingly selective hour-long show. Throughout their abstract play creator-performers Lilly Pollard, Tutku Barbaros and Izabella Malewska fight for the spotlight (literally) by conforming as closely as they can to the media’s ideal image of a woman. Out of the three, Izabella most closely fits the bill. She’s tall, thin and blonde and the others soon learn to use her as a benchmark which only helps magnify what the media encourages them to perceive as their own flaws.
They learn to pout, walk in heels, stick their arses out just so and swish their hair around in that ditzy slightly manic-looking way all the cool girls do. Through trial and error they learn that their voices aren’t valued unless they’re breathy, slow and sound as close to a disappointing orgasm as possible. Should they fail to understand and stick to the prescribed roles set out for them, the light dims or darts away from them, robbing them of the attention they deserve. Everything comes with a condition and worse, the goal posts keep moving.
Despite its neat metaphors, there are two inextricably linked and unconquerable failures to the concept of this show. One is, as mentioned, that the experience of anyone who isn’t Tutku, Lilly or Izabella is absent from Private View. This means that when Tutku draws guidelines for a surgeon over her body to make herself thinner and thinner, she can’t help but fail to note all the other traumatic, invasive procedures that large swathes of people put themselves through to achieve what they deem to be an acceptable external appearance. Chemical relaxer, eyelid surgery, anyone? It also means that disabled women, whose bodies are almost entirely absent from mainstream media, or frequently mocked by it, are left out here as well.
Its other failure is that it rarely capitalises on the unique relationship between the three women on stage which is the very thing that makes Plunge Theatre so intriguing. The programme tells us their friendship is “based on bodily maintenance misadventures” and though that sounds hella weird, when they show us how at ease they are with each other and how fearlessly they break the over-sanitised mainstream understanding of female bodies, they show us their potential. Right now, Private View is so much about the issues rather than the individuals that it, like the contradictory, pop-feminist song it repeats throughout, becomes little more than a prop.