Devisers: Tamsin Shasha, Maisy Taylor & Helen Tennison
Director: Helen Tennison
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
Born and commissioned from The Lowry Theatre’s Week 53 initiative Everything I See I Swallow returns to its roots having spent August at The International Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it picked up a Fringe First 2019 Award. It is a challenging piece exploring sexualisation, objectification, the role of feminism in the twenty-first century and a relationship between mother and daughter.
Olivia has many followers of Instragram. Her provocative selfies bound in shibari (a form of Japanese BDSM rope bondage) means that she is viewed by many over the safety of the internet. When her mother discovers that she uses her body and sexuality in this way, Everything I See I Swallow becomes an essay and an examination of women, their freedoms, rights and subjugation in society. Performers and writers Tamsin Shasha and Maisy Taylor use metaphor and expressive art form to delve into a complicated subject matter that treads a fine line between pornography, freedom of expression and a narcissistic desire to be celebrated and have a platform on social media.
“You are a shining example of patriarchy at work” mother tells daughter: “I brought you up to be a feminist!” But definitions of words and movements slide between inter-generations and this becomes the dichotomy in the piece. The performers use aerial work with rope to occasionally tie each other up – sometimes literally as well as linguistically – in knots. Mother, an ‘old-fashioned feminist’, cannot understand how the objectification of her daughter to the extent of being bound for a man’s pleasure can have any liberating quality. Olivia, of course, thinks differently.
There is some intriguing aerial work by performers Shasha and Taylor as their bodies contort over one another on the rope as well as mirror each other’s synchronicity. Sound composer Matt Easton underscores much of the piece with dark and brooding undertones that create a heavy atmosphere complementing Charlotte McClelland’s moody up-lighting. But, unfortunately, this adds to a feeling that the piece is trying too hard to be earnest and as a result its sincerity becomes compromised. The debate doesn’t feel particularly new and despite the addition of aerial work it doesn’t feel presented in an intriguing format. Scenes become a little ‘mashed’ together and what has the potential have dramatic form drowns in a sea of feminist quotes delivered to the audience and projected on the cyclorama.
The creatives poke fun here at the apparent switch-around of letters as well as switch-around of attitudes towards body and self-expression as S&M becomes M&S. But the piece feels a little too comfortable in this middle class ‘bubble’ it creates for itself. Whether beauty is in the eye of the beholder or partaker is an interesting debate but feels less valid when it is the performer on stage declaring their beauty in the first place!
Credit must be given to Shasha and Taylor for the effort and commitment of birthing a show and having a successful Edinburgh run. However, it still feels like a work in progress and style becomes predominant over substance as the piece struggles to work out what it actually is or what it is striving to be. “Look at me. Don’t look at me” are the opening words of the show: a comment on attitudes towards social media and the humblebrag as well as the changing attitudes towards feminism and a sexualised female form. But it also rings true for the show itself – an intriguing premise, especially for those looking for something different, but doesn’t tread any new ground.
Runs until 12 September 2019. | Image: The Other Richard