ORAL is a play about mouths and starts with Viv Gordon running. It is the 90s, and she is running away. In this neon-lit setting, Viv starts to tell her story. She talks about her fear of dentistry and her love of cooking. Cooking — she explains — is predictable: it’s a safe-space. But her daydreams of being on MasterChef often end with an unhappy twist as the dish she tries to create based on a childhood memory is found unacceptable by the censors.
ORAL is a play about childhood sexual abuse and its effects on adult survivors. It is a story of a survivor, made not only to raise awareness and visibility, but to empower other survivors, and it does so with the utmost respect. Viv’s memories are told in allegory; she compares her childhood self to a princess who lives in a colourful kingdom but gets lost in a deep, dark forest. It talks about topics that are still considered taboo today even though 90,000 people in the UK alone are affected by them.
While the play deals with heavy topics, it still manages to maintain an optimistic outlook. Alongside the comedic elements, like the surrealistic dance with cheek retractors,the main source of light remains hope. The effectiveness of hope lies in its subtlety, as at the moment when Viv is ready to leave the dentist's office and the doctor mentions that he read the article that she had sent earlier. This simple act of reading her article about the connections of childhood sexual abuse and dental fear fills not only Viv, but also the audience with hope for the future.
The 90s are having a renaissance today. Like the recently premiered Captain Marvel film, which seemingly starts with a clichéd ‘girl-power’ agenda of having to prove your worth to your abuser but debunks it by the end, ORAL shows how feminism and mental-health activism have changed in the past three decades. Victim-blaming has slowly been recognized as a problem, and the idea that people can remain comfortably neutral on certain topics too.
ORAL is a play about hope and ends with Viv Gordon running. It is the present day, and she is running towards the future. She is running with her fellow performers, who are also her friends and allies. They remind the audience about the importance of change — about how by not pursuing it, we as a society, maintain a status quo that is harmful to many. In our time, having good intentions is not good enough: only our actions matter.
- Masha Laszlo
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
Key Facts and Figures - NAPAC
Tips for Abuse Survivors - Dental Fear Central
Dental Hygiene Care for Survivors of Childhood Abuse - Oral Health Group