The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a real mix of weird shit but there can’t be many pre-sets as ominous as the one for Katy Dye’s Baby Face: a white-sheeted floor, softly lit, haze of talcum powder in the air and a plastic highchair alone on the stage. Once the lights go down, the opening is a whirl of fury: Dye dances with the high-chair, grapples with it, fights it, sits on it, addresses us. It is her friend and her foe.
The high-chair represents lots of things across the show but, essentially, a cultural sexualisation of youth and innocence. Dye, at 26, looks younger, and tells us that the older she gets, the more pleased she is to be mistaken for a younger woman, even a teenager. I remember having to abandon a bottle of wine once in my early 20s when I didn’t have my ID, and being reminded by a cheerful cashier, “It’s a compliment!” In a neat opening 10 minutes, Dye questions why the fuck that is, what exactly is so desirable about those bodies that ‘young’ is a compliment not a descriptor.
Across the 50 minute show, she draws a line connecting the infantilisation of women, the sexualisation of youth, the pornification of teenage schoolgirls (via Britney) and a beauty industry obsessed with preserving youth. Dye has a theatrical eye for a striking image and is a preternaturally committed, scary performer, making this a show with lots of potential and lots of memorable moments – but with very little text in here, Dye doesn’t quite succeed at convincing us that all the issues she’s addressing are part of the same problem.
They’re certainly all relevant to youth and age and sex within the bounds of the patriarchy – but I’m not sure they’re quite connected enough to be placed alongside each other with so little comment. For instance, yes the language of the beauty industry is geared to preserving of youth, but that’s more about making middle-aged women look 26 than 14, retaining the kind of youth Dye still has ahead of her, rather than the kind she’s left behind – it feels like something distinct, rather than a straight continuum with everything else Dye pulls out of the box. All these issues definitely are part of a spectrum of related controls over female behaviour and assessments of female worth, but with much of the show dominated by movement set-pieces and Dye speaking so rarely, she can’t do much beyond elicit a reaction, which might be a bit reductive for such a complicated set of problems.
Without Dye digging into the issues she raises, Baby Face feels a bit thin on the ground, despite a whole-hearted and memorable performance. The show actually feels like a set of successful set pieces that have been woven together and not quite become more than the sum of their parts. But despite Baby Face‘s problems, Dye clearly has plenty to say for herself and the ability to say those things in inventive, challenging ways, and she can dance, and she’s terrifying. Not a bad combination for live art – so there’s plenty to be excited about in this debut hour.
Baby Face was performed at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2018. Click here for more details.