The confessional chambers of two fitting rooms are the setting for The Hemline Index. This glorious piece of spoken word combines poetry, movement and the talent of two instinctively funny performance artists to draw the audience into collusive thought about their experience of twenty-something life in their respective decades. As a neat gauge it uses the academic dissection of how skirt lengths have traced economic trends as a base line for this exploration.
The show begins with the catchiest of tunes from the 80s and Twenty-teens (or should that be Tweens?). The audience are already singing along to Culture Club and Beyonce when our two twenty-four year olds enter. From 1984 we have a Lauper-esque, shoulder-padded-mini-skirted woman, working at the customer services desk at Freedman appliances – ‘No sir, your microwave is not giving you nightmares’. She dreams of being PA to Alan Sugar. In the adjoining room is a twenty-four year old girl in 2014. Working in the customer services department at booboo.com, an online fashion retailer, she dreams of being a fashion journalist. ‘It’s gotten so bad,’ she ponders, ‘that I’m beginning to dream in complaint tweets.’ With influences of third wave and post-feminist theories, our 2014 candidate is less hopeful. ‘It’s almost an achievement to have achieved so little since university’ she philosophises. The jumping through hoops that a current graduate has to do to secure a promotion from customer service advisor to supervisor is an accurately chosen source of bittersweet humour. As the girls soliloquise in a perfectly timed stream of fast-paced consciousness, their voices intersect at moments of parallel and diverging experience and the familiarities give rise to utterly giddy laughter.
Although beleaguered by their own time-specific inflictions the subject matters are the same – career failures and progressions, romantic aspirations, fashion and sex. The girls give us honest and occasionally flinching self-examination. The positing of the 80s next to the twenty-teens is a wonderful device; in contrast with our 80s representative, the experience of our girl in 2014 doesn’t appear stylised – it is more human, more touching. It is, of course, the experience of our writer, performers and of me as a viewer and perhaps this is why I felt it more keenly. But much of the chuckle-spinning came from contemporary imagining of the 80s vibe; even in this the performance convivially and intuitively judges the feeling of our generation in tone, lingo, expression and how we look back through rose tinted glasses.
The thoughts that Portmanteau provoke prove to have a long reach beyond the show. It’s politically conscious, but not preachy, hilarious in its dealing with pretty serious topical issues, and above all immensely human and exceptionally watchable. It makes comedy out of the situation rather than the individual which makes the humour intelligent – no lazy ugly or fat jokes here. Oh and Jane Fonda and yogis move over – laughing through this gave me a great abs work out.
Review by Annemarie Hiscott
The Hemline Index
COG ARTSpace, London, 10 – 12 November 2014
A poor economy lengthens more than the hemline.
In 1984: secondwave feminism, economic boom and mini skirts.
2014? Fourthwave feminism, underemployment, the midlength.
Set in a fitting room, The Hemline Index is a funny fast talking piece of theatre that delves into the minds of two twentysomething women as they contemplate work, relationships and expectations. The question is, has a lot changed in 30 years?
Women are getting married later, having children later, and hope to have it all figured out by 30. Daughters, mothers, friends, lovers… Combining movement, verbatim and spoken word, Portmanteau will take you on a journey through time as measured by ‘The Hemline Index,’ exploring the lives of two twentysomething women in their defining decade.
Portmanteau, a Londonbased contemporary theatre company, return to London with Fringe First Nominated piece, ‘The Hemline Index’ after a successful run with The Pleasance at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Friday 14th November 2014