Oral // Viv Gordon

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:

Viv Gordon

Key Facts and Figures - NAPAC

Tips for Abuse Survivors - Dental Fear Central

Dental Hygiene Care for Survivors of Childhood Abuse - Oral Health Group

The Psychological Impact of Victim Blaming and How to Stop It - US News

Captain Marvel Has Nothing to Prove to You - Pajiba


Every time I see Jamila Johnson Small dancing in Fury I remember how it feels to stand on a dance floor undulating, oscillating, swinging and wavering. 

I used to be a party girl, and as such have often lost track of many things going on around me whilst I was trying to lose myself. 

Every time I see Jamila Johnson Small dancing in Fury I can look for those things, trying to recognise me and the indistinct multitudes that trundle around a dance floor seeking for love. We are all falling, and slouching, and seeking for love.

- Camilla Carè

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Last Yearz Interesting Negro (Jamila Johnson-Small) - Fury1/FuryZ

Art in the Club - Crack Magazine

Dance Memory - Duke University

Clubbing, Dancing, Ecstasy, Vitality - Ben Malbon

Ugly Chief // Victoria Melody

Framed as a living funeral, Ugly Chief mines what is at stake when we numbly follow mainstream social norms or accept glib representations of the truth.

The entire show is founded on the misdiagnosis of Victoria Melody’s father with a terminal illness. Although he notices his health fails to plummet, he does not confer with his doctor, as is all too typical in relationships with professionals where technical prowess subsumes empathy. In the space of ignorance, Melody plans her father’s funeral, as requested, and trains as a funeral director. When the doctor’s error comes to light, the Melodys collaborate on ‘Ugly Chief’- a title that emerges from an inaccurate meaning ascribed to their surname picked up from online ancestral research.  There are frequent prods at our tendency to infer truth from unsubstantiated sources, like her father’s apparent familiarity and connection with the culture of New Orleans. As revealed by her research trip, it turns out it's limited to the opening sequence of Live & Let Die.

Melody confronts the conventional taboo of talking about death, luridly describing funeral practices such as sewing mouths closed in an attempt to make corpses parody the living and for death to appear less distressing. She shows us a product range of coffins rising to one at £19,000 with no value to the end-user.  These shiny veneers may offer more comfort than openly discussing death when alive, but in doing so they sidestep environmental factors and we relinquish our freedom of choice. We succumb to limited and often more costly options driven by corporate agendas. 

Rather than experience emotions, we choose what psychotherapist M Scott Peck describes as 'dinner party conversations', prevalent in what he describes as pseudo community: a shallow existence. Melody moves beyond her explorations of death and goes on to break a second taboo, the public airing of familial dirty laundry as she and her father explore their fractured relationship. Experts in truth and conciliation identify this willingness to talk as a precursor to forgiveness. At the end of the show, the Melodys read eulogies for one another that are raw and touching. Although this is a performative work and we have no way knowing what is real, Melody has attuned us to this dilemma earlier by describing her dim experiences at Chelsea College of Art, which include a tutor berating her for a poor understanding of Baudrillard’s Simulacra. In the end, perhaps it is only the willingness to experience emotions, to allow discomfort and speak the unspeakable that sets us free and enables us to be real. 

- Lubna Gem Arielle


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Doctor Patient Relationship - Huffington Post

A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics - Daniel Levitin

Live and Let Die (1973) - New Orleans Funeral Scene

Death Cafe

Death Doulas - Huffington Post

The Different Drum - M Scott Peck

Funerals - Ethical Consumer

The Forgiveness Project

Baudrillard's Simulacra

Hyperthymesia // Cece Otto

In the world today, there are between twelve and twenty-five documented cases of hyperthymesia, also known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). People living with this, are able to remember most of their life events. Their recall can be incredibly detailed including the weather, events, emotions and sensations of any given day. All these memories are mentally catalogued and remembered with astounding accuracy. Vivid sequences of events are almost trapped in time, living forever as they are…unaltered by the usual process of re-remembering an event from the distance of time passing.

Cece Otto delivers a one woman-show inspired by these individuals. We glean a sense a life never forgotten; cascading in all its happiness, joy, shame, disgust, embarrassment and sadness. Most affecting is the reveal that the emotions attached to these memories remain potent (demonstrated by Otto's character revealing they are still furious about something that happened when she was five years old). 

It feels like lots of models for increasing a sense of wellbeing (mindfulness, meditation, yoga) encourage one to be present and/or ‘let go’. Difficult or traumatic events hook themselves into our memory and are often re-triggered by other, separate but related circumstances. Revisiting these events to understand them and find a little breathing space, the tiniest bit of relief is already quite an undertaking that can require the sensitive mediation of a mental health professional. So, what happens when you live with hyperthymesia and it is a near impossibility to ever let go of emotional attachments to a memory? How do you come to terms with a difficult moment when it lives on in the sharp focus of the present? Might a person with hyperthymesia relate to lying, fictions or speculation differently, because their own mind has no need for such inventions when telling their own stories?

An infallible memory challenges much of our understanding that recalling memory is predominately a process of recalling ever-changing versions of that memory. Remembering everything as it is-was, crams a brain full. Many people with hyperthymesia stem their barrage of memories by writing them down. Something about visually storing memories by giving form and language must help contain them. Hyper-real by comparison to someone living without hyperthymesia, these memories line up, attentive and unimaginably close. Permanently in order. 

- Alexandrina Hemsley


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hyperthymesia - Cece Otto

Total Recall: The People Who Never Forget - Guardian

9 Facts About People Who Remember Everything About Their Lives - Mental Floss

Meet The Man Who Remembers Everything - NBC News

Remembering Everything: Superpower or Burden? - Plaid Zebra 

Memory Is Inherently Fallible And That’s a Good Thing - Technology Review

The Science of Cringe // Maria Peters

As a child, Maria Peters went to school early every day to conduct a secret science project (investigating the effects of shampoo on hair strength). But she stopped when she could no longer keep it a secret from her friends, fearing social rejection. This is just one of many personal 'cringe-cidents' revealed during the course of her show, which uses comedy and science to explain what cringe is, why we feel it, and whether sharing the most cringeworthy experiences of her life will help her control her fear of rejection.

The audience, too, is invited to share, albeit anonymously. Everyone has the chance to write down an embarrassing memory that Peters will later use as the basis for an improvised reenactment or song. We get to cringe for each person's remembered experience as well as for them having it replayed in front of all of us. How much we cringe or laugh depends on our level of empathy - people's capacity to feel each other's emotions, including social and emotional pain, is a strong part of human culture. Cringe, it seems, helps bind us together and exclude anyone who doesn't quite fit. Peters pulls in arguments from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to support this idea.

Research into modern-day emotions can be complicated and sophisticated, but can it help us cope when excessive cringe interferes with our lives? 'Shame attacks' form part of some types of behavioural therapy designed to ease social anxiety. Participants are tasked with going out and committing small acts of social disorder (loudly calling out every floor in a crowded lift, for example) in order to learn that cringing is not the end of the world. Peters seems to be trying something similar with this show, and her conclusion is that while cringe may sometimes save us from social embarrassment, it also sometimes stops us being who we truly are. Her suggestion is to embrace the cringe, and when everyone in the audience joins her in a most cringeworthy dance at the end of the show, it is hard to argue.

- Michael Regnier 


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

The Science of Cringe

Reputation is the Modern Purgatory - The History of Emotions Blog (2012)

The Centre for the History of Emotions - Queen Mary, University of London

Cells That Read MindsNew York Times

Evolutionary Psychology - Science Daily

Shame Attacks - The Albert Ellis Institute

4D CINEMA / Mamoru Iriguchi

4D CINEMA / Mamoru Iriguchi

Mamoru Iriguchi’s moving planes of flat projection are a visual signature, a recurring technique constructed through a wacky series of contraptions that disguise their sophistication. In 4D Cinema the footage projected onto them are used to question time itself, the ability of a subject to define their own home and the biographic responsibilities of the performer and audience. The nature of memory is as much its subject as Marlene Dietrich, both in what the audience remember of themselves as they were fifty minutes younger, and in thoughts of how your memory will survive after death.

HIP / Kriya Arts

HIP / Kriya Arts

Hip is an hour drifting through the Jungian collective unconsciousness; during the performance, Jolie Booth explores the serendipity of finding uncanny parallels with past lives. Based around found objects, Hip is a semi-autobiographical one woman show that starts by introducing us to a location caught between two timelines and personalities: the home of Anne Clarke during 60s bohemian Brighton, and a squat established by Jolie in 2002.

TORCH / Flipping the Bird

TORCH / Flipping the Bird

The setting for Torch is a narrow one: its narrator has locked herself in a toilet cubicle at a nightclub, unable to summon the confidence to storm the dancefloor despite plenty of shots and a snort of coke. Within its confines, she journeys across her past, reflecting on the relationships and sexual experiences that shaped and eroded her sense of self.

THE ROOSTER AND PARTIAL MEMORY / El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe

THE ROOSTER AND PARTIAL MEMORY / El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe

There is a lot of dick-waving going on in The Rooster, most of it metaphorical, some of it actual. Based on the character of Al-Deek, the Rooster, in traditional Lebanese and Palestinian folk dance, this contemporary piece explores power and chauvinism through the medium of men acting like cocks.

ON EGO BY MICK GORDON / Mind Over Matter Theatre Collective

ON EGO BY MICK GORDON / Mind Over Matter Theatre Collective

Mick Gordon’s 2005 play, On Ego, made in collaboration with Paul Broks, a neuropsychologist, poses philosophical questions about selfhood. It plays with teleportation to create a doubled character, Alex, and asks whether the original or the copy is the more ‘Alex’.