REVIEW: FLAPS (Bits and Pieces Ensemble)

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park

Bits and Pieces Ensemble

[Light in Dark Places]

A sickly smell of adolescence wafts through the Basement Studio. The floors are lined with mattresses and the walls are adorned with pink, white and floral sheets, which, coupled with the upbeat, girl power tunes, gives a 90’s-esque slumber party vibe. It’s an immersive and welcoming environment as the cast mingle with the audience and offer sweet treats as we fill up and snuggle in. With the taste of a marshmallow in your mouth and the unsteadiness of a lumpy mattress beneath you the lights go down and the show begins.

For the next hour and ten minutes Bits and Pieces Ensemble present a series of vignettes based on their own personal experiences of living with a vagina, which range from embarrassingly personal confessions to satirical bawdiness. The ladies take ownership of their sex to uncover previously partially hidden truths. The ensemble work cohesively as a group, and all get their own moments to individually shine. They have worked alongside guest directors to construct many beautiful moments that linger in the mind.

“Panties Roster” (lack of a program leads us to conjure our own nicknames for the pieces) is a hilarious but candidly true depiction of a woman’s prioritising of her delicates. The brilliantly constructed “Safety Sheets” is a satirical yet shockingly accurate reflection on the victim blaming that comes with rape culture. A poignantly visual piece of shadowplay added an innocence to the catalogue of work.

Loosely providing a framework to the show is the infamous “Never Have I Ever”, usually played by young teenagers or drunken adults; a game of confessions that allows players to offer past acts and thoughts in the hope others in the room will admit to the same shameful secrets. Performed intermittently by the cast members, the setup of the game sees each woman sitting in the dark with her own lamp, a confession is thrown out, and a lamp briefly illuminates their faces to identify the confessor. This leads to a particularly clever moment later on that allows the essence of the game to shine through and addresses the crux of the work: that women still feel the need to hide their confessions even in the safest of spaces. Even in a space constructed to this purpose, it’s still not entirely possible for them to step up into the light and claim their truths.

The constant flickering between darkness and illumination in Emily Johnson’s minimal rig and lamp lighting design, mirrors the concept of both the difficulty and ease of discussing the issues addressed. Sound, both electronic and as an ensemble, presents a mixture of choral vocal work, singing, offstage sound and non-diegetic accompaniment throughout.  The cast make use of their musical talent, however, though the quaint ukulele number had fitting lyrics, it was under rehearsed and a little distracting. This piece also demonstrated the mashing together of sound and visuals for the sake of filling a perceived void when in actual fact the core message of the vignette would have been better served with a simpler presentation. A personal and touching recording of a cast member’s mother and grandmother was undercut with a clichéd physical piece involving string that lacked the substance to connect the two pieces together.

Stand out performances come from Alice Pearce with her incredible comic timing and Grace Augustine’s brilliant chameleon like character work (though her moving box solo piece needs more physical specificity). Together the ensemble presented a united troupe of talent that carries the show through it’s less rehearsed pieces towards the shining moments. FLAPS fulfills its promise to present these hidden conversations between women leaving audiences entertained and hopefully a little more informed in the ways of living with a vagina.

FLAPS is presented by Bits and Pieces Ensemble and plays at The Basement Studio until 27 August. Details see The Basement.  

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