Plunge Theatre’s Edinburgh debut unflinchingly explores 21st century femininity in this confrontational piece of modern feminism in which three women explore perceptions of female body image.
The techniques and the symbolism used throughout are undeniably obvious, but that doesn’t stop the images they create from being powerful and important.
With no narrative to speak of, Private View takes the form of a series of thematically linked vignettes. The three performers, Izabella Malewska, Tutku Barbaros and Lilly Pollard, guide us through an uncomfortable world of body hair removal, chocolate cake and prejudice in a quest to understand female ‘perfection’. Confronting personal confessions and insidious media ideals, their sketches are thought provoking, if somewhat unfocused, and owe stylistic debts to disciplines as varied as verbatim theatre and performance art.
All three performers are wholly committed to their cause and as a result, potentially hackneyed images re-emerge as striking techniques for grabbing our attention. Pollard wraps herself in clingfilm; Barbaros scrawls over her body in felt-tip marker and all three apply make-up by smearing their faces with food. They become grotesque idols to a god of false, idealistic beauty. The techniques and the symbolism used throughout are undeniably obvious, but that doesn’t stop the images they create from being powerful and important.
This is all offset by verbatim passages that seem heavily inspired by the recent Everyday Sexism hashtag. We hear short sound-bites from the wider world: one woman is wolf-whistled in the street, another told to “look good for the meeting” and so on. For all of their food smearing, attention-grabbing antics, Plunge are at their best in these moments of reflective, everyday anger. These sequences gradually become more and more confessional: the cast-mates tell their own stories, often with a warm, dark humour, confronting patriarchal society with humanity.
Both stylistic halves of the show work well; Private View’s problem is that its scatter-gun presentational style means the whole piece ends up coming across as a little unfocused. In trying to address so many different aspects of the issues at hand, Plunge risk of not exploring anything in depth and the overall experience is weakened as a result.
That said, with more work on tightening up the different aspects into a cohesive whole the show has great potential to grow into a vital, hard-hitting piece of theatre. It’s not quite there yet, but Plunge Theatre is definitely a group to watch.