It’s a one-woman production, but the performance is all women. In fact Katherine Vince is the prototypical everywoman as she takes on numerous roles in her realisation of Claire Stone’s perceptive play. Interacting with multimedia and striding unabashed through the fourth wall at will, she lays bare the fallacy of conventional standards of female beauty, of the rites, rituals and recriminations we put ourselves through in order to show our faces.
The framing device, of the recorded commentary of a two and a half year old boy observing his aunt getting ready for a day out, really condenses two thoughts that we all know, though we may not often acknowledge them: firstly that the male gaze really does frame our every moment; and secondly that social gender norms and casual sexism are embedded from an alarmingly early age, even in liberal households.
There is a trend among upcoming theatre makers to use projection in everything they produce, often without adding value, or even to the detriment of the piece. This isn’t the case here – video clips of bittersweet comic interludes, an actual acknowledged PowerPoint presentation interrogating the assertions of Marx and Beyoncé, amongst others – all of these components add layers to the thoughtful and honest process of self-awareness that the hour-long show drives towards.
Vince starts onstage as the audience troop in to their seats, asleep under a sheet on a mattress on the floor. As she wakes up to her day, the reveal of her phalanx of products and toiletries, underlying her very physicality, is hilarious and immediately sobering. More arresting still are the figures: the sheer financial outlay of waxing and grooming and preening, in a year, in a lifetime.
Drawing on factual data in this way could be dry, even preachy, but Feral Foxy Ladies avoid this trap with mercurial shifts in tone and frequent injections of humour, from the satirical to the absurd, both physical and in wordplay and wry delivery.
I Got Dressed springs from the same well as any number of other female works about body image and social pressure (Amy Godfrey’s The Biscuit Chronicles immediately comes to mind) yet it has a distinct voice and feels timely – in tune with the rise of feminist hashtags, awareness of the hypocrisy of pricing for gendered products, and Instagram campaigns around going makeup free, or unshaven, or any number of female empowerment ideals that are resurfacing in this not-quite-new millennium.
There is a sincerity of intent here that really lifts the production above the clamour and some striking moments of incisive commentary and capably-directed and executed comedy. To be honest, any show featuring the line “Fuck you, David Cameron” is going to have my vote, but I Got Dressed is far more than political vitriol. From the mouths of babes and sucklings as they say – justifying the time-intensive and pricey process of putting on your face in the morning (and all the rest of yourself too) to a bemused toddler really does bring home quite how absurd we are as a species: it’s a cunningly effective device that opens the door for top-class character work and smart writing. If you’re in Edinburgh this summer, find time for this one.
Seen as work in progress at Camden People’s Theatre in London – then transferring to Zoo in Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015