“In therapy you have to tell stories to help you to dig into your memories”, claims Rhiannon Faith, assertively. The lively performance-maker and sugar-sweet storyteller has recently embarked on a course of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to heal wounds left during adolescence – but, in this autobiographical performance piece that loosely documents her journey, it’s not just the patient that benefits from processing a narrative. Throughout Scary Shit, therapy, a school of thought that calls for remembrance, repetition and observation, is brilliantly partnered with dance; Faith is just as well complemented by her friend Maddy Morgan, who joins her onstage. It’s a joy to witness this personal, redemptive, imaginative and creative process, which depicts two women support each other through a litany of fears, phobias and apprehensions.
Faith and Morgan make a formidable double-act: the first is as energetic as the second is sober, and both are equally captivating. With Faith dressed in silver and furry pink, and Morgan clothed in loose black robes armed with gold studs – costumes that seem richly metaphorical and whimsical, as well as topically protective – the pair bring an element of disco yin-yang to their onstage presence. Both women, at times, seem thoroughly surprised to be onstage, and there’s a convincing thread of spontaneity running through this piece, with Morgan occasionally seeming at great pains to bring her friend back onto topic. As they grill each other on increasingly intimate subjects, it’s easy to believe that these two mates are firing back fresh, unrehearsed answers to questions asked for the very first time.
The core plot of this story is simple. Now in her early thirties, Faith has decided that it is time to get over her fear of speaking on the phone – a fear that has stayed with her since an early boyfriend used the family landline as a mechanism to terminate their fledgling romance. Bringing in psychologist Joy Griffiths to help her, Faith runs through the fateful day again, and again, and again in her mind, and then again and again for our benefit, until the sequence of events loses all of its resonant power. Through repetition, a cure is found – and self-confessed neurotic Faith seeks new fears to combat.
And, apparently, scary shit is not in short supply.
Just as CBT is effective in saving Faith from past traumas, Faith is effective in protecting herself from future ones. If she should bump her head, both her skull and the missile will be protected, thanks to the soft layer of fur that coats her bicycle helmet. The performance space is coated with two-man ponchos, that promise the duo shelter from any unlikely indoor elements, and an air pump ensures Faith gets enough oxygen into her lungs. There’s a protective layer on the on-stage chairs, too, and a border of tape defines the performance space, as if the audience might pose yet another danger.
‘Confessions’ by Destiny’s Child pours through the sound system, as the women – with their varied levels of reluctance – open up about the things that make them scared. Yet, despite all her talk of fear, there’s a definite uncensored energy about Faith. While this performance is not empty of wisdom, there’s a sweetness to how this performer talks about her conjunctivitis, before rubbing her most private corners with the absent-minded innocence of a toddler. Morgan is the perfect counterbalance to this freedom, her cynical, learned savviness, together with the abstract, knotted contraption she brings on stage, suggesting that she may be more reluctant to break down her own barriers than her friend. Faith doesn’t quite let herself come across as selfish, but rather brings a certain naivety as she approaches her friend’s insecurities. “Maddy doesn’t like talking about her fears” she announces, innocently, in a show all about talking about that very thing. “So I thought this would be good for her”.
While, in this friendship, talking might not always be that easy, dance is a successful medium for exploring the place where the mistakes or tragedies of the past meet the emotions that preserve them in our memories. When working through her course of CBT, Faith paid close attention to how she organically performed emotions: “I looked at how my body responded to the questions Joy asked me.” The result, for her, is a carefully-mapped piece of choreography, which collides the insignificant physical journey taken to answer the phone and accept the news with the significant, melodramatic response. In contrast, not being built on the reflections of therapy, Morgan’s performance seems notably more impulsive. Her movements are sharp and focused, frantic and tight, and marked with defensive body language – folded arms, or a dismissive shake of the head. Matched with shielded conversations about her own infertility, this apparent struggle to reconcile body and mind makes for poignant performance, and it would be rewarding to see this aspect of the collaboration developed into a full performance in its own right.
Scary Shit was on a Rich Mix, click here for more of their programme.