So, yes, I’ve cribbed a Janelle Monae lyric for the title of this review but not only is it the perfect description for this autobiographical piece on sexual assault, it also emphasises the extent to which this blend of theatre and performance art hits both the head and the heart.
You see, Lydia was sexually assaulted. We know this because the start of this piece sees her – the real Lydia, not an actress – standing on stage telling us this. Her feet noticeably scrunched under and her shoulders hunched up as she reads from her diary to explain what happened; the geographical location of the event left cleverly opaque in her retelling, allowing the sharpness of the details to pierce deep.
But plays about sexual assault are tricky territory. It can be hard to bring interest and freshness to what is heavy subject matter. And popular subject matter. There are a few of these plays around so, how do you do this differently? And is there a way to bring hope into such darkness? And how can you draw in and keep an audience involved all the way through?
Big challenges but, well, these are overcome with ease in dressed. What an exhilarating production! What originality! Songs blend with drama, physical comedy mixes with gallows humour, and movement and expression share the stage with questions that can never be answered in a show that’s as much about hope as it is grief.
This is a gem of a production. But it is also a show about clothes.
Yup, you read that right.
You see, Lydia is a seamstress and, traumatised after the assault, she moved home and threw herself into making clothes. Making costumes, making garments, making sashes… Anything. Anything to just keep sewing, to just keep moving. To just keep pushing the pain away.
Enter Lydia’s three closest friends from childhood: Josie, Nobahar and Olivia. (And those women are genuinely the ones on stage – again, no actors). They take on the roles of healers and supporters, But as they put on the costumes Lydia has created, they also become external manifestations of the anguish and anger within their friend.
It’s a breath-taking show and there’s no doubt that there is much that is remarkable here – the play’s originality for one, the genuineness of the friendship amongst these women, and their collaboration of ideas and skills in the creation of this show another – but as the four women took their bows at the end, the single greatest remarkable achievement surely must belong to Lydia’s tenacity and inner strength.
By making a successful show from such trauma, she has committed herself to reliving the toughest of experiences every night just in the hope that it can help others. What a sacrifice and what strength she has. Remarkable. Remarkable and wonderful.
25 – 28 Feb & 1 – 2 Mar, Battersea Arts Centre, London
14 – 16 Mar, Tron Theatre, Glasgow
26 – 30 Mar & 1 – 5 Apr, Shoreditch Town Hall, London
11 – 13 April, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
21 – 23 May, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol
24 – 26 May, The Garage, Norwich (as part of Norfolk & Norwich Festival)
4 – 8 June, HOME, Manchester
Image by Camilla Greenwell