28 March 2012
Performing arts company Extant have blended a mix of burlesque, horror, comedy and magic to create an immersive experience. **Deborah Caulfield** witnessed 'Sheer' at Stratford Circus, London.
With help from Dramaturge Alex Bulmer, writer/ director Maria Oshodi has put together an interesting and challenging production. In Sheer, her aim was to ‘merge burlesque, horror, comedy and cabaret into one coherent piece.’
The show starts before the beginning; in the foyer we’re told that the auditorium will be totally dark. Even the merest glimmer from a silent mobile phone is not permitted.
We’re ushered into our seats individually and at this point I’m excited.
The story begins with the arrival, behind me in the auditorium, of Bifuckular, Cataracto, Miss Stagmus, and the ambiguous Squint. They have been tricked, by the elusive Ray, into facilitating disability equality training, in the dark, to a group of unsuspecting social workers. They proceed with caution and a few jokes to smooth things over:
Q. What’s the difference between a social worker and God?
A. God doesn’t pretend he’s a social worker.
Particularly outstanding moments in the show were two vignettes mocking society’s obsession with the body beautiful. Played gloriously over-the-top by Heather Gilmore (Bifuckular) and Tim Gebbels (Cataracto), these cameos were a peep at the potential horror of cosmetic surgery and extreme body building.
The pursuit of the myth of physical perfection can have dangerous and gross consequences. As demonstrated, a penis as big as a balloon can be fun, but disastrous if it doesn’t fit inside your knickers.
Similarly, over-botoxed buttocks might be one man’s idea of loveliness (e.g. the surgeon’s) but creates havoc with your negligee, giving a newer and grosser meaning to letting it all hang out.
In the real world, visually impaired people are always at risk of becoming victims of sighted people’s values and opinions, whether through mendacity or malice. Such as, on a mundane level: ‘That tie matches your shirt perfectly. Who says red and green should never be seen? Or on a life-important matter: ‘Where’s the platform? It’s there…’
Add to this, the pervasive power of medical professionals. Ophthalmic surgeon to blind patient: ‘Your eyes are useless; how about a nice pair of gleaming glass look-alikes?
Not to mention religious fanatics, scientists, pseudo scientists and psycho-babblers who dedicate their lives to bringing sight to the blind.
Lastly, let us not forget (as if) the advertisers who, having invented needs that erstwhile did not exist, feast upon our fears and fallibility, persuading us that unless we change everything about ourselves, especially our bodies, we will never be whole people, never mind happy.
Using dark and light as a metaphor with a sighted audience is likely to make for an uncomfortable time. I tend to start yawning when the lights go out. My brain tells me it’s time to sleep. Perhaps I rely too much on seeing.
The front rows missed out on the showers of stimuli in the form of polystyrene beads and bits of paper that I know caused a stir behind me. However, we did catch the swish of gauze-like fabric brush past us. Or was it hair? Or feathers. Whatever it was, it was rather pleasant.
The quality of the sound, both the background and the actors’ voices, was one of the aspects that worked especially well.
With references to the social model of disability, and the light-bulb jokes, the whole show is a series of splendid role reversal moments, putting blind people in charge of the language, imagery and discourse about them.
We need more of this!
Sheer plays at The Arts Depot, London N12 on 3rd and 4th April 2012.
For details go to http://www.artsdepot.co.uk
To read more about Extant go to http://extant.org.uk