John Keats once wrote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know”. Of course that was a long, long time ago and an updated version of this quotation would start “Beauty is All, truth is no longer necessary!” This then is the theme of “Private View” the latest show at Theatre Delicatessen presented by Plunge Theatre.
Three unnamed ladies (Izabella Malewska, Tutku Barbaros and Lilly Pollard) explore the nature of beauty in the modern age and the pressure brought on women to conform to this week’s idea of the right shape and/or look. Using a grid structure, the three start at the back of the stage trying to attract the attention of the all-seeing ‘master of the lights’ who decides whether or not they move forward on the grid of beauty heading for the elusive centre stage spot where they are held up to everyone as an image of perfection for all others to worship and attain to. Along the way, sacrifices have to be made and these are demonstrated in, at times, rather graphic detail. Intimate waxing is using duct tape and an unfortunate soft fruit left me wincing at the abuse of the fruit, whilst simultaneously vowing I would never have anything waxed in my life. Other aspects of the extreme steps people go to in order to achieve a ‘perfect’ body included bulimia and make-up lathered on to hide imperfections. As well as the lights guiding them, there were the words – phrases heard every day from the seemingly innocuous “you’re very curvy” to the truly awful, and here I paraphrase “Nobody would touch you” all of which chip away at self-confidence and lead to a belief that somehow one is unworthy of finding happiness because of appearance.
There is really horrible moment when one of the ladies finally makes it to front centre, the light shining steadily on her as the others try amazingly extreme remedies to match the perfection in front of them but, all at once, fashions change and the light goes out – what was once the epitome of beauty is now another wannabe trying to change herself and fit in with the new “reality”. There is a point where the girls actually rebel, they get into the leggings and baggy tee shirts and decide to live life – chocolate cake, talking about forbidden things in great detail and dancing for themselves – forgetting any pressure from the outside world. But of course, that cannot last and the comments come back to them bringing their insecurities to the fore, leading to an ending that is as poignant as it is uncomfortable as the audience is fully drawn in to the girls’ struggles to be perfect.
This is a powerful and at times unsettling show that explores public perception of beauty through the medium of dance, text, some stunning acting and a fantastic use of lighting, which is virtually a 4th member of the cast as it takes on the arbiter of beauty role and manipulates the lives of the girls. The direction is tight and the flow is lively, entertaining and gets it point across without hammering it home. The interesting thing was to hear the nervous laughter from different sections of the audience as they recognized various parts of the show – in fact my companion’s first words after the show ended were “that was my life!” and I got the feeling many in the audience felt the same. In this age of Size Zero Models and sexualisation of youngsters for advertising purposes, Private View is a real wake-up call that the most important thing is to be yourself not destroy yourself trying to please others with your appearance, and if you fancy that last marshmallow then go for it. Something that everyone, male and female needs reminding off every now and then.
Review by Terry Eastham
Devised and performed by Plunge Theatre
Monday to Saturday, 8pm
8 – 31 January 2015
4th Floor, 119 Farringdon Road
Wednesday 14th January 2015