For most of us, our clothes are a major part of our identity. For Lydia Higginson, who was stripped at gunpoint and sexually assaulted during a trip away from home, there’s much more to it than that. Collaborating with some of her closest friends to retell the experiences of the last five years, dressed. is an exploration of a true story that is unflinchingly honest and unquestioningly powerful.
The underlying message is one of reclamation and friendship
The four performers have been friends since their first dance lesson, aged ten; we have Higginson, a costume designer and seamstress; theatre-maker and company founder Josie Dale-Jones; singer/songwriter Nobahar Mahdavi; and professional dancer and visual artist Olivia Norris. Together, they become an ensemble that moves and breathes as one: the deep bonds of friendship are never far from the surface, and the evident trust within the group helps to bring out moments of genuine, moving tenderness.
As you can imagine, costumes feature heavily as a key part of the narrative. Outfits designed by Higginson in the immediate months after she returned home are distributed, adorned and discarded by the group as each struggles to fit into the mould that these costumes force upon them. Dale-Jones executes a spot-on pastiche of the awkward male stand-up, Mahdavi epitomises the sweet songstress who is breaking under pressure and Norris’ fusion of dance and contortion realises the uncomfortable sexuality of the slinky black dress. Some movement sequences weren’t as clear as they could have been, but the narrative provides a strong anchor for the direction of the performance and allows the audience to draw their own interpretations from any ambiguities.
It’s a devised, autobiographical show, and the group humbly acknowledges that this may come across as ‘self-indulgent’, but I would disagree. The underlying message is one of reclamation and friendship, a retelling of the support and love that brought Lydia out of the dark place she found herself in on her return to the UK. The show has been branded by the press as ‘part of the #MeToo movement’, which raises the question of whether a mass protest removes the voices of the individual. In this case, however, it would take a lot more than a movement to quieten the voices of these women.