Writer: Imogen Butler-Cole
Director: Fran Moulds
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
‘I’m fine,‘ says a voice at the start of this 40-minute dance show about the trauma of sexual abuse. But the voice is at odds with the solitary performer, creator and writer Imogen Butler-Cole, who moves slowly inside a crescent of tall standing mirrors. It’s very clear that she’s not fine, and this brave and haunting show stands in solidarity with all those women – and men – who have survived sexual abuse.
Initially, Butler-Cole seems shackled to a chair as it accompanies her every movement across the stage of the Studio space in the Vaults. The chair is her burden – like the shame and fear that survivors feel after an attack, sometimes for years, sometimes forever. Tonight we hear the stories of many women, but Butler-Cole’s own story is at the core of this show, though, of course, it is representative of all those who have been attacked, all those who have been raped or abused.
The stories, which appear over Tara Franks and Filipe Sousa’s melancholy sound design, are spoken by the actual people who have survived these attacks, and, because of their candour, all are difficult to listen to. Chillingly, we also hear one male voice, the voice of the man who attacked Butler-Cole. Sometimes she is still as these voices are played, while at other times she struggles with the chair, trying to unravel herself from its parts. She is trying to recover her body.
The foreign body of the title is not just the body of a perpetrator who forces himself onto his victims, but also the body of the victim after the attack. The body is so scarred that it no longer feels like it belongs to the survivor. Butler-Cole’s piece is ultimately a journey with recovery at its end; the recovery of confidence, sexual desire and trust. It’s moving, and despite its difficult content, hopeful.
After each performance, Butler-Cole is joined by guest speakers to discuss sexual abuse and the support that is offered by various groups and charities. And while these panels happen in a different space to that of the performance, they are definitely integral to the show, rather than an extra, after-show activity. Some may find Foreign Body a harrowing experience and so it’s vital that a safe space for discussion is created immediately after the show.
Despite the issues raised by this show – issues around consent and coercion – the beauty of this dance, reflected by the seven mirrors, can go some way to catharsis. The psychological scars of sexual abuse may never go away, but Foreign Body suggests that some healing may be possible. This is important and essential work.
Runs until 11 March 2018 | Image: Contributed