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Theatre Review: dressed

dressed
Battersea Arts Centre
London SW11

VICTIM, survivor, or both? That’s the perennial query when talk turns to those who’ve been through sexual assault and it’s the focus of dressed, 60 minutes of ethereal brilliance which dispenses with labels, reaffirms the nature of recovery and reminds that deep wounds can heal.

There’s flawless choreography, some haunting musical interludes, a little knockabout and daftly surreal humour, along with a prosaic justification for the piece’s creation.

The initial focus is on costume designer Lydia Higginson, 19, when she was held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted during a robbery in a house where she was staying. She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result, gave away all her shop-bought clothes, retreated to an attic and made an entirely new wardrobe for herself.

The four costumes, she has explained, “represent the four women I had become in order to overcome what had happened. One was a showgirl, one was a warrior, one was a joker and one was a ‘dark’ woman.”

Donning them along with Higginson are theatre producer Josie Dale-Jones, singer-songwriter Nobahar Mahdavi and dance and visual artist Olivia Norris.

The four have been friends since school and the communication between them is intense. There are several moments, heartbreaking and uplifting, when one carries another.

The Harvey Weinstein story broke when dressed was in development and his ugly mug makes an appearance as the players don masks with his photograph on and execute a macabre tap dance.

It’s one of many jarring and provocative moments in what is not a relaxing hour. But the pace, timing and direction provides a flow that eases the way.

There’s dark humour aplenty. Dale-Jones, addressing the audience, thanks the men for coming: “If you saw our flyer and thought ‘That’s for me.’ It’s not.”

Mahdavi's songs recall the Twin Peaks theme, prompting the idea that dressed offers an alternative to such a victim fest. A woman can be saved through sisterhood — she doesn’t need a male hero to rescue her. It’s good to be reminded of that from time to time.

At the heart of dressed is the way women are seen, or watched, by men. Clothes, movement and body language are all too often their response to this and these four formidable talents know that, take delight in subverting it and have created a top-notch performance as a result.

They’ve taken the male gaze and made it blink, painfully.

Runs at Shoreditch Town Hall from March 25 to April 5, box office: www.bac.org.uk. Anyone affected by sexual assault can get help and guidance from rapecrisis.org.uk and/or thesurvivorstrust.org.

 

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