The Hope Theatre
I confessed to a friend a few days ahead of What Makes A Body Terrifying? that I was worried I wouldn’t understand what was going on. Having had the pleasure of interviewing the creatives from The Not God Complex recently, I realised how out of my depth I was in discussing the show’s themes and what they hoped to say to an audience. But at least I was forewarned with that extra knowledge. I suspect it gave me a small advantage over many in the audience. But really, does a complete understanding truly matter when something is this beautiful?
Even as we climb the stairs from pub to theatre there’s a feeling of expectation. Maybe it’s because this is my first Camden Fringe show of 2022 with what is approaching a full house? Maybe it’s because a large element of the audience has come expecting to see themselves somehow represented in this piece of queer theatre? Or maybe it’s the sight of Zoe Glen and Billie Grace waiting, laid out on the floor, the performance space we sit around adorned with soft material and assorted trinkets? It’s clear the pair are waiting for us to enter their watery realm.
What follows is quite surreal. The pair lead us through strange performance dance, recitals, singing (including in foreign tongues). There’s even some delightful puppetry. It’s all very… abstract. Weird. Confusing. It’s questionable how much anyone outside of performers and director Bethan Barke fully understands. But again, does it matter? Because there is an absolute beauty to this piece. Because Glen and Grace are truly captivating as they glide across the spaces between us. Captivating like the Celtic “Selkie” and Slavic “Rusalke” they represent, two mythical creatures who lure people to their deaths.
This could all so easily fall apart were it not for the two skilful performers and careful direction. They glide, they step, they mesmerise as they look out. Facial expressions change; at times angry like a storm at sea, or fearful, amused and, most delightful of all, moments of complete mischief, as if they both know they have us in their hands and that should they wish, they could simply crush us. After all, they are Selkie and Rusalke.
Complimenting this performance is Rebeka Dio’s equally entrancing sound design and accompanying music from ‘Dongo’ Balazs Szokolay. The sounds sweep over us like the lapping waves we regularly hear, enough to lure us further into their embraces. We may never want to leave.
But what then is it all about, what is that message they wish to give us? That becomes more apparent as we hear voiceovers of people condemning queerness, religious bigots expressing their view that queerness is a sin, that God did not make people that way. This is further reinforced as Glen and Grace speak of wanting to escape their bodies, of tearing away the facades they are forced to put up and finally be themselves, whatever that may be. It’s here that perhaps the true meaning of it all comes to the fore. Before once more they lure us back, deeper and deeper into the ocean, to soothe us, to ensure us we are safe even as water fills our lungs.
What Makes A Body Terrifying? is a piece of art that, in lesser hands, might be an utter mess and considered art for art’s sake. For sure, it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. But for an hour there I was truly entranced and could think of nowhere else I would want to have been.
Devised by: The Not-God Complex
DIrected and dramaturgy by: Bethan Barke
Sound design by: Rebeka Dio
Additional music by: ‘Dongo’ Balazs Szokolay
Produced by: Eilidh Northridge
What Makes A Body Terrifying plays at The Hope Theatre until 18 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.