Written and performed by Liv Ello & Frankie Thompson, Body Show is a visual representation of being overstimulated and conditioned by the media, and by society to conform to ideas of gender.
As you enter the room, you are welcomed by a number of remixes of Aqua’s famous “I’m a Barbie Girl”. The two actors “Ello” and “Thompson” are frozen on a pedestal, dressed as Barbie and Ken, with slight robotic movements. However, the show steers clear of playing on the revived popularity of Barbie, choosing instead to only make references, and instead creates its own characters. Well almost, it does fall into the Barbie trap towards the end of the show, but proves that the show can and will stand on it’s own feet first.
By clever use of multiple screens, each streaming it’s own rapid and overlapping video clips, we’re at a constant loss of which screen to engage with. It’s another smaller but strong metaphor for the current climate that we exist in, this was incredibly designed by Cara Evans. With its constant stream of outdated television clips and advertisements aimed at children (primarily dolls for girls, and guns or construction for boys), it forces us to shed the rose coloured perspective that often accompanies nostalgia, and forces us to the unpleasant realisation of what we were actually subjected to in our youth.
The occasional particularly outrageous longer clips are shown, and we’re given a more in-depth glimpses into how truly awful the media can be. A particularly awful one is the case of 10-year-old singer ‘Lena Zavaroni’, whose anorexia was used against her publicly, and X-Factor clips of obvious fat-shaming. These videos are usually used to help cover for costume changes, or as transitions between scenes, yet are integral and just as strong as the performances from our two performers.
Liv Ello gives us a strong performance of a ridiculous caricature of toxic masculinity at its worst, with the persona of ‘Action Man’. From the repeated jokes and masculine mentions of manhood, violence, and ownership of women, the performance is offensive, yet never actually offends the audience. There are a few audience interactions during this portion, including a high-risks fight where someone from the front row was brought onto stage. (It evolved into a tense game of rock, paper, scissors thankfully), and ultimately was a hilarious moment in the middle of a rather absurdist segment. Their first discovery of what it means to be “a man” starts with a cowboy hat in their youth, and ends with comparisons to a massive stallion, playing on the metaphor. The show uses these smaller moments to highlight a number of issues that we, as a society, need to address and change. Their use of spoken word here was also quite clever.
However it is Frankie Thompson’s unhinged woman that takes the cake (or scone). Fed up with the doll-like body that she’s trapped in, she does an excellent job at using exaggerated facial expressions, to emphasise this. With the extended metaphor of being a ballerina and the toll that it has, both physically and psychologically, is concerning. This climaxes when she uses voiceovers from the “bake off”, in between jarring explosions, resulting in an intense performance that could have fit in a horror movie. Her acting ability was so great, that nearly the entire front row cowered when she approached them.
The two actors performed incredibly well but it’s the technical design (Lily Woodford-Lewis) that makes the show all that it is. From a startling black out to start the show, there is good use of all elements to create tension and elevate the show to such a great height.
The show, unfortunately, is let down slightly towards the end by embodying Barbie and Ken. Whilst this initially brought about a well-written piece of spoken word, and interesting perspective, it starts to rely too much on the famous characters, losing it’s own original brilliance. The show can also be rather triggering due to it’s contents, so please do check warnings before booking.
Body Show is currently playing at the Soho Theatre until the 14th of October. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography provided by Soho Theatre