Author Archives: Rebecca JS Nice


About Rebecca JS Nice

Rebecca worked as a dance teacher, lecturer and choreographer for eight years specialising in tap and jazz. She has a background in Art History and is currently training further in medieval history and contemporary choreography with a particular interest in live art. At the early stage of her dance writing career, Rebecca reviews and analyses theatre and dance performance and is working on a papers for publication.

Nando Messias Shoot the Sissy. Photo Holly Revell

Nando Messias: Shoot the Sissy

Nando Messias’ alter-ego / performance persona Sissy has been navigating through gender barriers and society’s fault lines for over seven years in an ongoing series of works. Shoot the Sissy, which premieres at the Chelsea Theatre as part of the And What? Queer Arts Festival builds on Sissy and The Sissy’s Progress – but stands alone as a work of great style and fanciful flair.

The piece revolves around a series of juxtapositions: control and passivity, behaving and rebelling, pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness. I laugh, cry, and sigh through Messias’ rituals, which are performed on a straw-strewn stage, which is furnished with a brightly-painted circus podium (of the sort performing animals might stand upon), two chairs, and a collection of cardboard boxes from which objects of desire are selected.

The Sissy is thrown into the spotlight wearing an elegant ballgown, royal sash and tiara. She takes the audience through a series of clowning vignettes based around an object; shooting sections where audience members are selected to throw things at their human target; stories fondly told or sung; and choreographed movement. Transitions from each form are seamlessly woven into the piece, the fast moving pace keeping the audience on their toes.

Moments where Sissy is the centre of a visually striking image are abundant. The joy shared by all when a shot releases an explosion of fake snow over Sissy is curtailed by her blowing gusts of dusty white powder from her mouth with the power of a dragon breathing fire, interrupted by a choke and splutter. There is an abundance of joy and beauty in this work, from the excitement over coveting a pair of pink shoes, to discovering the tiniest, dinkiest purse in a handbag version of Russian dolls – each bag nesting inside another. This simmering excitement is constantly fettered. The possibilities of the object play are maximised, and the joy surrounding the commodity is curtailed, lending to the ever growing sentiment of tragedy surrounding the Sissy.

These vignettes are divided by a series of shooting scenes where an audience member is invited to throw something at the sissy. As the show progresses, the given objects increase the violence or humiliation for the Sissy, her reactions range from innocent joy, sexual titillation, to discomfort and pleasure in pain. Sissy makes the choice and demands the shooting in a fierce ritual of play and self-punishment. The Sissy enjoys the attention, the adoration you receive when you stand on a podium on stage as confetti falls about your shoulders. The tension between human and performer, audience and shooter, means that you can never fully separate the two, and feeds a growing feeling of uneasiness. In moments where the Sissy is frightened by an invisible ringmaster, or thrown onstage through an eerily-lit door, we are reminded that whether conforming or rebelling, it is always in response to a higher being, a society with cracks in it that keeps us safe, rewards us with commodities, tears us apart with ridicule, and heals us with love.

The Sissy maintains an elegance and grace even in the most grotesque contortions or make-up states. Sinuous and linear movement vocabulary emerges from everyday gestures into isolations: shoulder and rib articulations, and intriguing port de bras with a delicate intricacy. The physicality of the body is explored alongside the use of objects, drawing attention to gender with unzipping motifs around genitalia, cuppings of breast and bum, and a gradual undressing of corsetry – until the Sissy is stripped totally bare. The Sissy doesn’t conform entirely to either gender role, and the use of the ‘the’ in the title furthers the disconnect between performer and person. It is through the highly emotive clowning sketches that the audience identify with the Sissy as a feeling, breathing human, and one who fully owns an identity not specifically defined by our limited language. So, I find myself referring to the Sissy as ‘she’ and gradually by the ultimate scene as ‘he’, possibly as a response to the female dress used throughout and the naked male body revealed at the end, but the identity that emerges is something far more complex.

A gentle shift from objectification to empathy parallels a reversal from willingness to reluctance in the audience to shooting the Sissy. The Sissy’s parting image, standing stoically naked on the podium, holding a spray can to the heart becomes powerfully tragic as blood-red paint forms long drips down his body in a poignant reference to both the dying Christ and the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando (the later being one of the catalysts for the making of the piece). This fierce and tender work invites you to fall in love with the clown whose complex relationship with power and play shines a light on the nexus between objectification, pleasure and humiliation in society today.


Featured image (top): Nando Messias: Shoot the Sissy. Photo Holly Revell. 

Nando Messias’ Total Theatre article on his muse, Letting the Genie out of Pandora’s Box, can be read here.




Femi Martin: How To Die of a Broken Heart

Building on two scratch performances held at Battersea Arts Centre in 2015, writer and performer Femi Martin returns for three nights with her one-woman show, How To Die of a Broken Heart. Martin takes her intimate audience through a series of relationships and health scares as she discovers the strange, corruptive and accommodating behaviours of humanity. As relationships and health scares form the defining moments in her life, Martin’s relationship with herself and her physicality evolves as a prominent and empowering narrative.

Martin walks onto an unadorned stage in a pair of jeans and starts talking, as simple as that. She is lit by a warm wash and commands attention through her tuneful voice, searching eyes and that indefinable spark that oozes stage presence. For most performances, this lack of set and complex lighting would be a brave move, but Martin’s depth of feeling, sense of humour, and well-structured narrative carry her through the piece with ease. She is warm and frank with her honesty, she is a girl’s best friend, an adoring girlfriend, and an inquisitive woman who learns about herself and humanity as she ‘loves’ through life.

The work engages with what it feels like to suffer from an unknown illness, to not be in control of your body, and the social and emotional consequences and coincidences that tangle up in this story. Key moments of pain or discovery in Martin’s health are set against defining moments in her relationships. The dynamic between love and health is constantly in a state of flux, reacting to one another in unpredictable ways. From a throwaway response to her condition overthrowing the dynamic of a relationship, to a dinner date causing uncontrollable vomiting, her experiences are described with the humour and excitement that Martin naturally brings to her everyday life.

Femi Martin has a delicate way of moving that illustrates actions, or embodies feelings, that bleeds in and out of habitual gestures as she speaks. A subtle body ripple, a gesture, a glance, the miming of peristalsis or of a hospital tube down the throat, make the monologue dynamic and rich. There are regular moments where Martin’s eyes reflect her tears just below the surface. This is coupled with a sensitivity of movement that physically illustrates the text with a nuanced vocabulary. Hovering between embodiment and description the empathy and discovery offered to the audience through the combination of movement and speech is gentle and affective.

Carried along by Martin’s endearing story-telling, viewers gasp at boyfriend Ricky’s manipulative behaviour, laugh at OCD Lonny, and sigh at how he makes Martin feel. Together we giggle at the dating stories and anecdotes, and breathe a sigh of relief as music producer Emmanuel appears to offer support. Intermingled with test results, doctor’s appointments, diets and alternative medicines, the choices taken reveal Martin’s life-long learning about her illness, achalasia. She frames these experiences and choices with neuroscience and silliness. As Emmanuel’s support transforms into disappointment and blame, the text carefully highlights a stigma surrounding health and illness. The implication that it is your choice, that you aren’t doing everything you can to fix it and that the solution is simple if only you would take it. As the narrative takes a turn, we are introduced to a new hero, Kai Keeling, who begins a new chapter of true love for Martin. The true champion of the work and of her own epic story however is our heroine, Femi Martin.


Featured image (top): Femi Martin. Photo by Benji Reid 



Tassos Stevens and Nick Ryan: Fortune

A collaboration between writer/director Tassos Stevens (of Coney fame) and composer/sound designer Nick Ryan, Fortune combines Stevens’ storytelling with Ryan’s evocative soundscape. An ever-changing atmosphere surrounds Stevens as he tells his stories, from storms erupting at sea to chiming bells – and the audience is invited to consider chance, fortune and serendipity, with some fun and silliness along the way.

Stevens is a big, burly guy with a brooding, thoughtful manner, who draws audiences into his stories as eager participants in games of chance. These games are woven into a text that parallels Shakespeare’s Pericles with Stevens’ personal journey of discovery of his family history. The Member’s Library at Battersea Arts Centre is dressed no differently than it would be for a rehearsal – slightly scruffy – as the audience enters Stevens’ world of play. The appearance is charmingly clumsy, while the content is delicately rich. Described as a ‘perma-scratch’ and therefore ever changing, each night reveals a variant as the elements of chance and audience participation alter the themes and outcomes.

Nick Ryan sits at the back with his laptop and an array of instruments, from Tibetan singing bowls to metal chimes which he plays with a bow. Stevens moves between a microphone and a flight case that frame a central mysterious metronome with a mind of its own. Two chunky square stage weights suspended by wires hang and gently swing at the hands of Ryan, who switches between Stevens’ assistant in performance and something more like a deity (or perhaps a Deus Ex Machina). The weights form two giant pendulums suspended from – what? – an invisible clock, a higher being or another world? They hover over wires taped to the floor, gently scanning a light across their surface that triggers sound. A constant, ever-moving, ever-gentle ebb and flow forms both a comfort and a point of tension in the work, and cleverly knits together Stevens’ speech with the soundscape. The momentum of the swinging weights are meditative and serene.

In contrast, Stevens addresses his audience as if they are all down the pub together. This tension provokes an uncertainty of our world in the here and now as a mystical parallel universe is evoked where our fate is mapped out for us. Stevens is honest and profound and chuckles with his audience as they get carried away with predicting narratives. He regularly throws in a ‘what’s next?’ or a coin spin, to their delight. There are running wagers and moments to ask the pendulums any question that might predict or determine your future. Stevens’ genuine relationship with viewers encourages them to invest in possible outcomes which makes for an engaging work. His choices in alternating between speaking into a microphone and chatting normally, singing or dropping into a deep, flowing rhythm of speech subtly allow viewers to smoothly follow one story into another.

This storytelling is thoughtfully grounded both in the themes of fortunes past and present, and personal enquiry. The text is both robust and beautiful, making for some powerfully expressive moments. This seemingly simple work uncovers a complex cyclical relationship between narrative, chance and the way in which we interpret serendipity to allow chance to become fate. This is paralleled by the relationship that the pendulum has to the outcomes of the text, the soundscape, and Stevens’ and Ryan’s commands. It soon becomes unclear who is controlling what and a world in the hands of the fates flits between becoming both believable and completely untenable.



David Hoyle: The Prime of Ms David Hoyle

Saturday night at Chelsea Theatre, and a hotchpotch of celebrities, students, artists and all sorts form an intimate and supportive audience as David Hoyle dazzles, flaunts and sings us through a satirical romp of queer theatre. Hoyle is joined over the run by different guest performers each night, including graduates of Carnesky’s Finishing School and the Duckie Homoexualist Summer School, from which Mitchell Snowden features on the night I attend, with a tentative and empowering solo.

Ms David Hoyle enters and takes her microphone centre stage, flanked by the lounging too-cool-for-school Simone Simone (Thom Shaw) and the straight-backed prefect Ben Walters, who is sat at his desk. Guest Professor, Penny Arcade, pipes up often from the audience before taking to the stage to put the world to rights.

The ‘ladies and gentlemen, and those clever enough to have transcended gender’ in the audience are presented with questions about the world that allow us to contemplate just how debilitating our man-made society can be. Framed as a lesson in education, Hoyle, dressed in schoolmistress drag with blue chiselled jaw bones and glittered cheek bones, poses questions about war, capitalism, exclusion, gender and the hypocrisy of politics, swinging between a childlike naivety and a jaded vulnerability. Although the themes are heavy, the work is light and funny – both brightly coloured and brutal. Giving away prizes and leading the audience in singing their hymns, the sassy and sarcastic Hoyle puts forth the serious themes in the form of hilarious life lessons. Finding answers to the crisis in our society begins by changing the way that children are taught. Via post-it notes, audience members pose suggestions for a new education system. Actioning change could and should be unpacked further as the work is at risk at times of appearing self-indulgent.

Hoyle is supported throughout by producer and director of the work Ben Walters, who performs the role of teacher’s pet, dressed in a school uniform – although minus his trousers, so he is just in his underpants. Simone Simone, another character in drag with voluminous blonde hair and an elegant, sinuous posture, languishes in the background. She is getting high, passing out and eye-rolling in a minimal performance that is strangely compelling. At one point, taking centre stage, she burns a match and lets it fall. Striking another, she leans in to light her cigarette. Ending in the perfect anti-climax, her fag disintegrates into flames and Walters leads her away. Simone exemplifies what the trauma of living in our society reaps. Her passivity, juxtaposed with her energetically engaged, activist fellow performers, highlights the complexities of being trapped by your methods of survival.

Amidst many hilarious quips, some poignant moments emerge. Hoyle recites Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy over a soundtrack of fighter planes. The nineteenth-century poem on nonviolence, and the exclusion of the army from society upon its return, demonstrates the complex nexus between violence and passivity in society, and the ramifications of hypocrisy and exclusion which are running themes throughout the evening. As the planes become louder and faster, Hoyle’s narration becomes increasingly deep, strained and urgent. Scenes like this frame the personal stories of being queer and dislocated within contemporary society within a wider context, cleverly tying the acts of the show together.

Tonight’s special guests at Ms Hoyle’s Academy for Girls (of both sexes) are Mitchell Snowden and Penny Arcade. Snowden simply sings. He enters, sings a song of self-harm, and exits, having purged his emotion. His smouldering, shadowy gaze, a deep monotone singing voice, and shaking arms bedecked with rows of tiny glowing red jewels, portray his personal journey through this dysfunctional society. Penny Arcade takes the microphone in a reaffirming TED talk/rant on gender, education, biology and exclusion. She provokes laughter and shock with un-minced words, but leaves us with a message that transcends the work as a whole: that society would be that much happier and safer if we just accepted, supported and loved each other for our differences. Is it really that simple? I am left thinking how sad it is that the queer community still suffers so badly and that this piece has had to be made at all. Maybe learning to love one another is the first step towards change; a change spearheaded by the sexy, gritty and gobby Ms David Hoyle.


Featured image by Holly Revell. The Prime of Ms David Hoyle runs Wednesday – Saturday 8pm and Sunday 4pm at Chelsea Theatre until 25 September 2016. See Chelsea Theatre website for guest artists.


Scary Shit – the mix tape

Rebecca Nice meets up with a heroine on a mission to empower women by exposing and facing up to the traumas and distresses they fear most

Rhiannon Faith bounds into the bar full of beans, stories and thoughts about both future projects and her current work, Scary Shit. She has just finished bombarding Edinburgh Fringe audiences with things we are not supposed to talk about (with a successful run at the Pleasance Courtyard throughout August). In conversation, Rhiannon is as dynamic and honest as she is in performance, with a solid grasp of what she wants to make and how to get there. She chats about patriarchy, feminism, friendship, fannies and nobs…

Rhiannon has a wealth of talents. She holds an MA in contemporary dance-theatre practice, a PGCE and a string of awards. Commissioned to choreograph for film, and a visiting lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire, she is also the creator/director of her autobiographical work, Scary Shit. This is performed by Rhiannon and Maddy Morgan, a contemporary and hip hop dancer (who also holds an MA in cultural policy and management).

Scary Shit uses speech, poetry, dance and comedy to portray two young women navigating their way through life together. Two girls who happen to be best friends undertook therapy sessions with Joy Griffiths, psychotherapist, whose voice emanates throughout their work and whose presence in their lives still crops up often during the interview. It shines a spotlight on their friendship by revealing issues that unfolded during therapy sessions and how they support each other through everyday life. The subjects that were flagged up during therapy are by default personal to both Rhiannon and Maddy, but their lives relate to every woman as the societal themes link them all together in the piece.

In discussion, Maddy’s name pops up as often as it does during performance and I get the impression that to be a fly on the wall observing their lives would be like watching the epic version of Scary Shit, the lines between reality and performance becoming ever more blurred. Moving on to chat about how the work has developed both prior to and during Edinburgh Fringe, the most pressing issue on Rhiannon’s lips is her injury. One show had to be cancelled as Rhiannon suffered whiplash and concussion – self-induced from repeatedly running into Maddy and a crash mat, whilst head-butting her. This is a startling moment in the work where breaking barriers, self-punishment, cries for help, and attempts to get through to someone, are all evoked in one repeated phrase.

‘I love that moment of the show, this bit is physically hard, and that’s how it should be.’ says Rhiannon. ‘I had my pink fluffy helmet on, so I thought I am well protected, but when I got home my back and neck didn’t work anymore. I lay on the floor and I was like  – shit, what if I’ve done something to my head? And Maddy got the paramedics around… I made Maddy sleep next to me because I thought I was going to die!’ Scary shit indeed…


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By now, this scenario is entirely feasible having been introduced to Rhiannon’s constant worrying and reliance on Maddy during the show. We move on to giggle about Magic Hands Steven, the physio, and Rhiannon’s trip to have a head scan. As the drama unfolds, I feel like I am living through another Maddy/Rhiannon saga and wonder how long it will be before this chapter is added to the show. We joke about how her dedication to reliving the physical and emotional experiences of the past during the show can take its toll – that’ll teach you to take phenomenology too seriously!

I ask Rhiannon if reliving the past every day in performance keeps her in a state of limbo where she can’t move on.  Is she at risk of becoming stuck at the height of her emotional, physical and mental responses?

‘As soon as we hear Joy and the therapy [recordings] it automatically triggers us back into that headspace, and you do emotionally have to revisit everything. It changes for me every show… where it gets me.  Today when I was getting off the chair and Maddy was doing her dance, that bit really got to me because it just goes through my head what she is going through, and conversations that we’ve had, so I do feel like I am living through it again – and she does the same.’

Maddy presents two scenes during the performance that have the ability to choke viewers, and out of nowhere I am suppressing tears before the comedy redirects my focus. She deals with how it feels not to be able to have children, and she confronts a rape; both autobiographical subjects.

Is there a limited time to tour this work because of the emotional toll, I wonder?

‘I thought about that, as we were going to do a show everyday. Is that going to change how we feel about it? But there are so many triggers… She’s my best mate, so whenever she talks about that it evokes emotion in me, especially as I know everything about it and how hard it has been for her. At the beginning of the show I’m thinking this is about our friendship – we just have to look after each other. Inevitably we’re going to look after each other, so it’s ok.’

I get the impression that because these women are dealing with the show’s themes in real life and finding ways to cope with them, the show simply becomes part of that, triggering emotion but ultimately triggering coping methods as well: ’We’ve learnt how to talk about it and how to switch off, and if it gets too much we talk to Joy and Joy quickly reframes it to us’.

Scary Shit openly addresses scary themes in a frank and honest manner which is true to Rhiannon’s mission; to make art that opens up things that we don’t talk about. Referred to as vulgar by some, this fuels the aim of her work to address why women are silenced. Periods, pregnancy, the inability to have children, the confusion around wanting children or not, rape, consent, being dumped, being scared to answer the telephone, form the content for the work that came out of their therapy sessions. The overarching spine is that of friendship which celebrates female relationships in a world where male/female love conquests dominate. The work has been adapted and changed during a studio week and tried out at festival gigs prior to Edinburgh, always with these themes at the core:

‘We made the decision to bring in Maddy’s story earlier on. The first 20 minutes is for the audience to go: What the fuck is this? Then, to start to trust us, and like us, and to realise that I’m neurotic and Maddy, she doesn’t want to talk about anything really, and just to be a bit silly before we get serious. Then we go straight into the poems… We’ve switched that up because I guess we felt that we wanted it to be a bit more brutal earlier on, so that when we do talk about stuff at the end it has a bigger impact.’

The poems ‘Holy Shit I haven’t had a Baby Yet (a conversation) and Baby Box Blood Bath graphically describe the thought processes and bodily functions that surround periods and vaginas, and not being able to have a baby. The choreography creates a juxtaposition of the grotesque and the beautiful, signposting the underside of a woman’s life that is suppressed by society. This feeds nicely into the biggest addition to the work, the ‘Fannies go for a summer stroll’ section:

‘We wanted something that was more about the bigger picture. We needed to have that wider idea about patriarchy and I wrote a script about a cock and a fanny and it was shit – but then we were like – no it should be two fannies!’


Scary Shit pink ponchos


Patriarchy pops up often in conversation with Rhiannon.

‘We realised that it needed something like that; something that wasn’t just about us. It was more about why women have to do what we do, and why we have to tell these stories, and why we’re so fucking scared.’ In a society where men automatically hold power and women are often silenced, raising awareness and fighting gender stereotyping, sexism and harassment is vital. The finer nuances of these issues are highlighted in the show, helping viewers to understand how society has conditioned gendered behaviour and disguised it. Swop the word fannies for women in this poem and all becomes clear.

‘I want to make art that opens up things that we don’t talk about and allow us to be vulnerable so that other people feel like it’s OK. What if we try and figure out why we fear so much, so that when we’re in that place we can figure out how to deal with it. That was always the intention of the work and I feel like every work that I will make will have the intention to help me learn how to be better as a human being. That’s why I had to go through the therapy. Society is not equal. There is violence against women. We need to open up this dialogue.’

Rhiannon is already taking this mission forward, as her future show is in motion: Smack That is about survival and resilience, friendship and violence. Rhiannon will be working with women who have experienced violence and abuse.

‘We are working with a theatre and a charity. We are going to do workshops with them and we’re going to talk about their stories. We want to invite three other performers who have experienced violence themselves and want to be part of the project. And then perhaps doing those workshops over a long period of time, maybe a couple of participants will be in the show as well. Joy Griffiths [featured in Scary Shit] will be managing the psychotherapy.’

If anyone can achieve this mission, I believe it is Rhiannon. Her tenacity, creative spark and awareness of the world’s bigger pictures make her work interrogative, dynamic and relevant to all, both men and women.

‘Scary Shit is my mix-tape and Smack That will be my EP and then my concept album is already in my head, and that’s going to be a big one, ‘ she says. ‘I want it to be at the Barbican.’

Speaking of mix-tapes, I ask Rhiannon to say which song she’d choose to be played for the rest of her life, whenever she enters a room. After some deliberation: ‘Queen Bitch by David Bowie.’

Rhiannon is a successful artist, teacher and director who reveals that women can be vulnerable, scared and powerful all at the same time. She shows strength in asking for help and displays love and loyalty in her friendships. She is a silly, serious and brave contemporary female heroine. She will go far…


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Rhiannon Faith’s Scary Shit was presented at Pleasance Courtyard 3–29 August 2016, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. An earlier version of the show was reviewed by Rebecca Nice for Total Theatre Magazine in February 2016. For more on Rhiannon Faith and tour dates etc see