Edinburgh Fringe 2011
An imaginative exploration of why women hate their bodies and how it damages not only the women themselves but the men who love them. Strong acting, direction and a multitude of ideas impress but often fight against each other and stop the play as going as deep as it would wish.
We arrive in the theatre to find three actors standing defiantly on stage in their white underwear. Under the harsh theatrical lighting, and close up nature of fringe theatre, we can see every detail of their body….. every sag, every bulge and every hair. The moment is broken when a fourth character, fully dressed, bumbles onto the set and switches on a light beside the bed in the centre of the set. For a second, you wonder if it is a technician and then realise he is a musician who will provide live music.
Once the play starts we realise that one of the women and the man are a couple (getting ready for a night out) and the other woman is in a separate space or time or whatever. Unlike the couple who have a home, she has only a pile of crumpled costumes in the corner. At first, I thought she represented single women with eating disorders. Next, I wondered if she was how the woman in the couple saw herself. Later, I thought she could be the woman several years later. Except, in one of the most intriguing moments, the two women bump into each other in the corridor of an adult education institution: one is a would be dancer and the other a would be artist.
During the course of the play, we hear about the tribulations of going to eating clinics, group therapy and how bad days can destroy the self esteem of even a young women in a loved-up relationship. There are impressive bouts of physical theatre where the young woman throws herself at the man and he catches her turns her around and they repeat the action in a most effecting way. We have straight to the audience internal monologue, symbolism (writing on the body), actors playing multiple roles (minor characters and comic routines) and deconstruction (the musician plays the sound system but with feelings and a witty line where he provides a ringing phone and tells the man who answers: you’re distraction sound cue.) This is certainly not naturalistic theatre.
Unfortunately, its range of ideas is also its weakness. I felt like I had had everything from the theatrical trick box thrown at me and nothing was explored in enough depth. Personally, I would have voted for more physical theatre as this best captured the depth of the woman’s inner rage and have dumped the quirky comedy dress up as bitchy shop assistants etc. While female critics used to write that male writers created one dimensional women who just fed the plot, I suppose it is some sort of equality when a male critic is complaining that the man was a one-dimensional ‘good boyfriend’ with no life, interest and consideration outside his girlfriend. Charlotte Josephine, the playwright, who normally plays one of the characters but was ill for this performance, has personal experience of eating disorders. So I would have expected more detail about the reality of this issue but instead I got material I either knew or could easily have guessed – ie: it’s hard to buy fashionable clothes and diet doctors talk a lot of rubbish.
There were effectively two endings to the play as the issue of the connection between the single woman and the couple was never resolved – just left to the audience to make up their own mind. The womanwho was alone finds modelling for drawing life classes makes her like her body and the woman in the relationships tells her boyfriend who uses his T-shirt to clean off all the cruel graffitti she had written across her body. While theatrically satisfying, this does not ring true with the depth of feelings and issues around eating disorders explored in the rest of the play. However, Charlotte Josephine is a writer to watch and I look forward to seeing how her career develops.