DanceLondonReview

Smack That (a conversation) – Oval House Theatre, London

Director: Rhiannon Faith

Dramaturg: Lou Cope

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

It feels more curated than choreographed at times through the tough presentation of Smack That. The work makes us acutely aware of the physicality of these women’s bodies – their power and vulnerability. Presented in a series of tableaux, there is a rawness and roughness with the show that takes it away from a slick dance production into something a lot more visceral.

The performance focuses on Bev, a woman embodied by six female performers. Bev is hosting a great party – pink chairs, balloons and presents for everyone in the audience. There are games, music, dancing and a lot of laughs. At this party, however, we dive with eyes open into a complex tumult of domestic abuse and violence made visible by the six performers. The literal and the metaphorical mix freely, the aim here is to communicate deeply, not just tell a story.

Created with elements of the abusive experiences suffered by the on-stage performers, there’s an urgency to this work that adds incredible force. Additionally, through the creation of a supportive and respectful atmosphere, the performance helps members of the audience, if they wish, share some of their own experiences in a non-pressurised and surprising environment. It’s this shared sense of ownership, of experience, that runs through this work and makes it so incredibly relatable. Each of the six official “Bevs” are dressed the same – a white wig of long hair and a grey (or gold) sparkly minidress. They greet the audience and name them similarly – name tags like Red Bev, Popcorn Bev, Scout Bev. The message is clear – the Bevs are fun, they’re the same, and so are you. This idea planted, when the dark stories of abuse start, we’re already right beside the stage-Bevs.

Throwing themselves across the space in sometimes graceless contortions and sharp angles the dance brings out the history of abuse and personal strength in a remarkable way. Each performs in a slightly different style to mirror the actions of an abuser and the physical impacts they have on a female body. There is a lot to say here about sex, most of it violent and harmful. From underneath this, however, we see strength in the group of Bevs who support each other, and Faith as choreographer seems to have been inspired from tribal or war dances to illustrate a fight, a survivor instinct against the attackers. Humiliation, blood, rape, threats against children and more – all told through these women’s words and bodies to demonstrate this is an urgent problem that isn’t hidden from society, just not recognised as it should be.

Backed with a simple and highly effective stage design from Amelia Jane Hankin and a soundscape from Molly O’Brien, the atmosphere works in beautiful concert to draw you into the Bev’s world. Or, actually, to help you realise that we all live in that world – where domestic abuse figures are disgracefully high, and our ability to talk about it is disgracefully low.

Faith, the production team, the six performers (Rebekah Dunn, Valerie Ebuwa, Yukiko Masui, Maddy Morgan, Kim Quillen and Casey Tohill) and the rest from many organisations have put heart and soul into bringing this to the stage – and it shows. A work of social importance with true artistic merit that should not have to be made but proves within its 80 minutes that absolutely needed to be.

The performance is designed to be emotionally impactful, and provides support on site for the audience. The team also encourage anyone who is a victim of domestic violence to seek help through a variety of organisations including www.solacewomensaid.org.

Runs until 16 March 2019 | Image: Contributed

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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