dressed @ HOME Manchester
By Sacha Crowther
"She didn't want to talk about being stripped anymore; she wanted to talk about getting dressed." Lydia Higginson and her closest friends take to the stage to explore a brave new world of cross-arts catharsis. dressed reclaims a stolen identity and creates something wonderful from despair.
This incredibly talented group of young women present themselves as friends first and dancers, singers, designers and directors second. Their onstage interactions are almost entirely physical, like the group of ten-year olds they once were, only now with infinitely more poise. Whether using their collective bodies to create beautifully symmetrical stage pictures, or reaching around in the dark, clutching for human contact, there's something instinctively corporeal about the way the group communicates. Dressed or not, a woman's relationship with her body is placed firmly in the spotlight.
Much of the production centres on how the show itself wrestles with sharing and censoring its story. This is a show that's ready to talk but doesn't always know how; a production that's screaming but can't find its words. This culminates in both moving physical exchanges and unapologetic silences. For long periods at a time we hear nothing but the carefully orchestrated soundscape of the sewing machine at centre stage.
The script is paired back, yet poetic. There is strictly no dialogue - just direct address to the audience, or frustrated, one-sided questions fired at a presently absent friend. The opening scene captures the audience, with intimate, chatty introductions, a la Bridget Jones' commandment to "introduce people with thoughtful details". It's upbeat and tirelessly playful. The infectious warmth of this first scene invites us into the fold.
From there, we enter Lydia's journal: the scene of her sexual assault is painted at once vividly and vaguely. The emotional detail is intimate, yet, we dive in without context. dressed never attempts to reenact the scene which catalysed the whole production. Instead, the cast reject traditional storytelling and pour all of their energy into an expressive purge on the road to recovery. The show is all the more powerful and familiar for its abstraction.
dressed is not always an easy show to watch. Josie Dale-Jones and Olivia Norris offer caricatured personifications of their costumes that are uncomfortable in opposing ways. Some wince at Josie's purposefully awkward stand up comedy routine; most are taken aback by Olivia's controlled physical convulsions. The show embraces distortion, to present a mosaic of responses to a traumatic event.
Yet, there is a subtle sense of playfulness that underlies the trauma. This production is born out of a place of acceptance, of reclaiming your own identity. Whilst the costumed caricatures are exhausting and uncomfortable, they also ridicule the often irrational responses of a mind in anguish. "Did you really think it would help?"
After the onstage start of boundless dancing, the show slows down and contorts but always maintains its energy. Two tap-dancing figures of Harvey Weinstein are sinister as hell, but inescapably a little bit silly. By coming together to create something cathartic, the company seem to have rediscovered their childish lust for life.
One of the play's most beautiful moments emanates from Nobahar Mahdavi's soulful voice. She cradles her best friend, collapsed in a pile of clothes that consume and define her, and sings knowingly about how time moves on and we are irreparably changed. In a gorgeous display of sisterhood, this serenade shifts gear: as if grabbing a hairbrush at a sleepover the pair belt out their duet and seem to reignite what was lost.
It's difficult to review a play that directly points the finger at how trite the art of review writing can be. Indeed it would be wrong to try to pigeonhole the production into a single genre. The revelation that Lydia's story was bumped from Women's Hour because "they had enough sexual assault stories for that week" strikes a dissonant chord. So I'll just say this: dressed made me smile, it made me cry and it made me feel like part of support network. This is not about women coming together to share their #metoo stories, but about being part of a coping mechanism, a solution, a reminder, a recognition, a revolution, a recovery, a new beginning...
dressed plays at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 8th June, as part of a nationwide tour. Visit the HOME website for more information and to buy tickets.
Learn more about the company's individual projects at www.thisegg.co.uk www.mademywardrobe.com www.soundcloud.com/imogenmahdavi and www.olivianorris.com.