Saturday, 2 March 2019

REVIEW: Smack That (a conversation) at the Ovalhouse

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. As you enter the Ovalhouse theatre for Smack That (a conversation), created and choreographed by Rhiannon Faith, you are entering a party. Helium-filled balloons are hanging from purple chairs, which are placed into a large square for the audience to sit on, we are offered drinks, candy and popcorn, and six performers in grey wigs and short dresses are inviting us to make ourselves comfortable. They even give us nametags. We are all called Bev, with a little something extra as well (I was “New shirt Bev”, as I mentioned I was wearing a new shirt). The gentleness and friendliness of the grey Bevs set the stage for a warm and solidary environment where you leave shame and any sense of ridicule at the door. This is so refreshing. 

This is pretty much an immersive show, with the lighting design by Azusa Ono including the audience into the show and with games being played – never have I ever, pass the parcel. Between scenes, we are invited to share with our neighbour, just say hi, participate and dance. At the end of the show, I felt a strange connection to everyone in the room, like everyone was more open than when they had entered. 

The party and games however are there to prepare us warmly before we start talking about domestic abuse and sexual violence. I say “we” because we are all Bev’s.

The text is based on true testimonials, spoken in matter of fact tones. The text is then also mixed into dance pieces and given rhythm, leading up to parts of sentences that land dramatically.

What I enjoyed during the show was that this was not about one specific performance, it was truly an ensemble. A group of women of different shapes and sizes loving each other, working together, sharing and truly supporting each other and the audience members. 

Three in particular were dancers, performing visceral movements that showed fear, anger as well as courage and the quest for understanding. Yukiko Masui had some particularly interesting sequences. In one of them, after offering a sponge cake to audience members, she starts dancing around the cake, being forced to eat it, even off the ground after it’s broken into hundreds of crumbs. There was a lot of repetition in movements throughout the show by the performers, bringing forward the theme of the “cycle” that one can find oneself in when in a situation of abuse.

This is a strong and original piece of theatre involving dance that one doesn’t see often. It is not a show that shows off or has a big ego, it’s really there to share and care (there is a chill-out space available if you feel unwell). Rhiannon Faith is certainly someone who is not to be ignored.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Free seating | Price of Ticket: £15
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