Private View by Sussex Uni grads Plunge Theatre is a daring attempt at staging familiar, yet oh-so-relevant, discussions around the objectification of women’s bodies and the accompanying degrading social commentary. The PR tag line asks us if we’re ready for this jelly, which turns out to be a choice question. Juxtaposed next to an increasingly fraught dance routine to Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bootylicious’, we’re actually being asked if we’re ready to accept the real life bodies in front of us.
The lighting design, a prominent feature of the piece, was simple but effective and from the start set up the sense of an invisible, external will, dictating to the performers. Wherever the light fell on the stage indicated where they needed to be or who was the most attractive. It was its own character, manipulating the performers to humorous effect, but if comedy is about timing this character often fell into predictable rhythms.
I certainly got a sense of Plunge Theatre’s ‘love of the ridiculous’, a thing which, according to the programme, brought the girls together in the first place. A black wig was passed between the trio to represent overgrown pubic, armpit and facial hair and the delicate brushing of the pubic mass by a beauty therapist was weird and wonderful. However, that was as surreal as this section got and, for the most part, their adherence to a message about societal expectations of women sometimes hampered the more off-the-wall imagery. Even the moment where the girls stand in front of an invisible mirror, grotesquely make-upping themselves with chocolate cake, seemed somewhat tame to me.
Over half of the piece is non-verbal, but there are some choice lines when the dialogue arrives. As the trio overlap in their recall of sexual harassment or degrading behaviour that both men and women inflict on women, we hear the refrain ‘you can tell your dad is a rugby player’ and ‘you’re really curvy, but it looks good on you.’ Pollard also bitingly recalls a one night stand where at the end ‘he ordered me a cab. It cost 40 quid.’ The actresses then take genuine delight in enumerating truths about the female body, whilst enjoying eating chocolate cake, and this has a refreshing charm and strength to it that sees them reclaiming the reality of womanhood through humour.
What I think they do especially well is being vulnerable on stage; no easy thing to be, especially as they draw on their own personal experiences. At the end of the show they confront certain audiences members whilst in their underwear, asking would they not look better if they were thinner. Being one of those audience members, I can tell you it was an interestingly uncomfortable place to be, not least because I could hear so convincingly the script of self-recrimination which is familiar to many, if not all, young women.
Ultimately, my feeling is Private View is aimed at a teenage audience, which is not to say older folk won’t enjoy it. I was entertained throughout and the trio are immediately likeable. Also, whilst being angry, the piece is not a one sided diatribe against men and neither does it leave women inculpable. Furthermore, they have chosen a topic which is entirely relevant and treat it with fresh subtlety and humour. For my part, the whole show could be less subtle, and in particular the grotesque elements far more grotesque, but not if it meant losing what makes this piece a little different; the performers bravely sharing themselves with us.