What do you expect when a female dancer enters a stage? Grace, decorum…a lot of arm waving? Delicacy and snugly-defined figures? The Hiccup Project can do this, but only if that’s what you want. It’s not their style: they’re more raucous, bounding around the space freely. The physicality is still there, the choreography tight, they’re just more self-assured. Then again, that’s not expected of them- doesn’t sound lovely enough.
Sick of being introduced one two many times as “the lovely Hiccup girls”, The Hiccup Project (comprised of Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron) are striking out against the mountain of expectations placed upon women. That overwhelming sense of identity each woman is meant to exude becomes a literal weight upon the performers: they pile useful bags upon sporty shoes upon sexy cat ears, making themselves Buckaroos of femininity.
This stands in stark contrast to Dillon-Reams and MacKerron at their most physically liberated. The negative is always expressed in tight corners, such as those that women find themselves forced into on nights out to avoid the leering advances of drunk bros, or the sidelines of a greater, bigger show. The dresses they feel the need to don are bodycon, unlike the duo’s natural choice: flowy shirts, baggy trousers. The freedom to be themselves manifests physically because that “lovely” levelled at the Hiccup Project is a cosmetic expectation.
It might feel brass tacks, the superficial ‘women should be allowed to wear what we like’ argument. This show isn’t about finer subtleties: a metaphor about paper and paper clips is ditched mid-scene because we all know what’s going on under the surface. The argument is hammered home time and again, initially making for a rote overview of feminism. However, the points wouldn’t need to keep being reasserted if it weren’t for the stagnant societal view towards gender equality. This point feels best made during a sequence portraying the pair as backing singers. The sequence is revisited, and only on hearing the song in full do we realise how much these gender norms are rooted in old-time, Golden Age twentieth-century ideologies. The song’s much-loved, but indicative of how often we overlook dated concepts around what’s expected of women because of this bigotry wrapped in a pretty, lovely bow.
Similarly, the show comes from a place of privilege. As is always the way with feminist discourse on stage, the demographic of its performers will govern who the show can resonate with best. Not that this means the Hiccup Project are the next Fleabag (which seems crazy because no women existed before Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She arrived on the waves in a half shell saying something about the size of her arsehole) but Lovely Girls falls into a similar pitfall. It’s theatre made by middle-class white women so naturally me and my middle-class white friends from girls school (I know) loved it because it spoke directly to the everyday sexism we’ve experienced. Will it cater to all women? Likely no- the show’s light and fun-loving, it’s a piece that portrays men as beefy idiots whilst referencing their more dangerous potential because Lovely Girls isn’t the platform for something darker. It’s a celebration of being frustrated, so will likely skirt the wider issues of feminism in all its sectionality, but that’s because to delve deeper would require a new tone and likely different narrative voices.
And that’s okay! Dillon-Reams and MacKerron promise laughter, dance and wine to people on the first row (a note to my future self more than anything) and they bloody well deliver. It might be a show that feels more Intro To Feminism that a wider critique, but the show’s finale and the unflappable energy of its performers means Lovely Girls is a show to take out into the world with you. It gives you a plate of armour, an undeniable good feeling in your bones that makes you want to dance wildly, too. Progress doesn’t feel easy, or subtle, but here it feels possible.
Lovely Girls is on at ZOO Venues at 8.50pm. More info and tickets here.