Presented by Colourwheel Productions, Duende Theatre Company and Matthew Vecchio Music
Reviewed Sat 3rd July 2010
Venue: Higher Ground Art Base, 9 Light Square, Adelaide
Past graduates of AC Arts, performers, Lucy Markiewicz, Krystal Brock and Georgie Pile, and director, Lisa Waite, collaborated on this project, co-writing the script and developing the work since late 2008. It looks primarily at the influence of the media on body image and the perception of what is considered perfect, desirable, acceptable or unacceptable.
The three performers enter, clad in flesh toned foundation garments. This, in itself, is a reminder that the shape of the female form has been an issue for a very long time, going back centuries and encompassing such devices as whalebone corsets and bustles. The craze for tiny waists left women barely able to eat or breathe, and fainting was a common occurrence, as was internal organ damage. One even recalls the Chinese custom of binding the feet of women, as small feet was considered a desirable attribute. There have been even more barbaric bodily modifications imposed on women over the centuries, as well as some ridiculous clothing fashions. One only needs to look at the photographs, in an Adelaide newspaper last weekend, showing young women in skimpy outfits on a night out in the middle of winter to see that the perceived necessity to conform to a fashion style is alive and well.
This work questions whether we have, in fact, progressed at all. The answer is no, we have not. In spite of the emancipation of women, the women’s liberation movement, the struggle for gender equality and all the rest, vast numbers of otherwise intelligent women still buy in to the largely male driven imperative to conform to some arbitrary idea of the ideal physical appearance.
Looking at the numerous magazines that tell people how they should look, act and think, reinforced by advertising and ridiculous television programmes that suggest that having massive amounts of surgery to change every physical aspect of one’s self is perfectly normal, it is not surprising that, faced with this constant bombardment, some women do start to question their worth and feel a need for drastic change to conform to the current set of stated values.
The fictional magazine Hearsay becomes a highly colourful programme for this production and Hearsay Inc., the force behind the publication, now announces their new health and beauty resort, IM-PERFECTION, where, if you place yourself in their hands, anything is possible. They play on the insecurities of women, insecurities that they have manufactured through their manipulation, offering ways to now overcome those insecurities. This is, of course, standard marketing practice: create a need, or desire where there was none and then offer to fulfil it, at a cost.
Through stylised movement, reciting repetitive slogans, singing and with a focus heavily on physical theatre the three performers, against a projected background of magazine artwork, unmercifully send up the media manipulation of women. This is entirely appropriate, of course, because the media manipulators show no mercy, either.
This is a very polished performance, involving precise movements, tight coordination and surprisingly little exaggeration in order to create a parody of the nonsense generated by advertising companies. Through the use of humour these three draw attention to the devious tricks used by the advertising media and cry out to women to learn to accept themselves, as they are. By extension, they also appeal to men to become involved in stopping this insanity.
Markiewicz, Brock and Pile, under the incisive direction of Waite, have created an important and thought-provoking piece of theatre. They raise lot of issues, beyond that of body image: the ethics of marketing and cosmetic surgery, self-awareness and self-esteem, the stupidity of putting fashion before comfort, and the senselessness of trying to live up to somebody else’s view of how you should be. Coupled with this are, of course, some absolutely superb performances from the trio. Through a complex blend of facial expressions, body language, movement, tableaux and vocal work, in which they act variously as discreet individuals, antagonists, protagonists and conformist group members, they create a series of linked scenarios that effectively and succinctly convey their message whist also being very entertaining so that that message is not lost in worn out rhetoric.
There is a big technical component to this production, with music and graphics by producer, Matthew Vecchio, sound by Thomas Begg, audio/visual by Anthony Firth and music by Pangolin. This all runs as smoothly as clockwork and adds a lot to the production.
Although this is aimed at women, there are similar, if less successful and widespread campaigns aimed at men, and many are falling for it. It also draws the attention of everybody, whatever their sexual preference, to look at the objects of their affection and accept them as they really are, and not as the fakes that they could become. This is a timely and relevant piece of theatre that deserves wider audiences; a schools tour would seem to be an ideal avenue.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide