[Playing by Different Rules]
Content Notification: Discussion of eating disorders.
Honest discussions of beauty and body image – and their truly damaging consequences – are still not common enough in our culture. Talking about eating disorders remains somewhat taboo and, despite many brands attempting to reframe themselves as allied with ‘body positivity’, we are still bombarded with messages about how we should look.
Game Face is a gig theatre show containing spoken word, songs and games, created by a trio of UK-based female artists (Lucy Park, Lexi Clare, Katie Paterson), and featuring guest star Amanda Grace Leo for this New Zealand season. In it, the three main performers open up about their experiences with eating disorders and depression – and also eat some donuts.
Pre-show the performers take their respective places in front of three microphones and do a (staged?) sound check, immediately establishing Lucy Park’s considerable vocal talents. I’m excited going into this show because, as I’ve already mentioned, I believe its subject matter is important to bring to the fore. The show makes some interesting points through its many vignettes, such as how beauty and weight are inherently tied to sexism, as many women are not taken seriously or their intelligence is not valued if they are ‘fat’. Or how today’s ideals of loving yourself and staying positive are no easy feat.
However, the show ultimately falls flat for me – suffering from some tonal and structural incoherence and coming across as unpolished and underdeveloped. Although the team present some beautifully written poetry and song lyrics, the more performative spoken word and musical numbers don’t manage to gel with the improvised feel of some games or the earnest confessions of past traumas. And, without any unifying conceit or metaphor to tie the piece together, the games themselves often feel out of place and the themes don’t really take us on a journey.
It’s absolutely valuable and validating to hear the performer’s honest experiences, but the piece doesn’t do much with these experiences – there is little in-depth examination, countering or reframing. Perhaps it was an issue of focus in what is undoubtedly a multi-faceted topic: they raise a lot of great points regarding beauty standards that are not followed up on, such as beauty in a postcolonial context – something I would love to hear more about but possibly warrants a whole show of its own.
One of the best parts of the show, for me, is Amanda Grace Leo’s five-minute segment, in which she takes the stage to respond to what we’ve seen so far. Leo’s vivacious presence is a welcome energy shift, as she discusses beauty and consumer culture, and the struggle for self-empowerment. But structurally, Leo’s inclusion does not feel well thought-out. As she is clapped off the stage, I find myself wanting more and wishing they could have found a way to better integrate her into the piece as a whole.
It’s clear that the vignette style of the show is intentional, and I’m aware that part of the point they are making is that there is no one answer to these deeply complex problems. Yet the piece still struggles with an overabundance of metaphors and ideas, never quite settling on one long enough for it to become the show’s foundation.
Despite its problems, Game Face is a relatable show that will hopefully blaze a trail for further conversations about beauty, weight and society. It leaves me with the message to ‘please be kind’ (including to yourself!) – and I think that’s something we could all afford to hear a little more often.
Game Face plays Q Vault as part of Summer at Q and Auckland Fringe, 25-29 February, 2020.