STRIP

Tue 17th – Sat 21st March 2015

reviews

Ed Grimble

at 00:01 on 20th Mar 2015

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‘All of what you see here is true’ set the tone for Dolly Pop’s play ‘STRIP’. The play took four interviews taken with strippers or burlesque dancers, and these were performed with minimal alterations by the five actors: four performers and one interviewer. Verbatim theatre is something of a problematic area in the performing arts, and it is clear that it presented both significant advantages and disadvantages for co-directors Jade Berks and Louise Marie-Bowen.

Without a doubt, one of the play’s most impressive features was its verisimilitude. All of the dialogue takes on a far greater magnitude as one remembers that these are not the words of a scriptwriter, but of people who are a true and genuine representation of the stripping industry. Alongside this effect on the dialogue, the fact that the play is true to life is also hugely beneficial to the audience. Stripping is a divisive issue, and people can often feel tentative about making a judgement on it, for fear of offence or seeming misinformed. However, the knowledge that what was being presented was a genuine representation of a stripper's experience seemed to give me greater confidence when I came to form opinions.

Verbatim theatre does have a crucial flaw though, and this is that it lacks a killer edge that would otherwise be provided by a scriptwriter. The spontaneity that the interview transcripts provided did in this way hinder the theatrical punch that a more contrived script would be able to deliver. In this way, the play did fall short of the dramatic impact that was anticipated.

In a play in which content was clearly more valuable than elaborate theatrical gimmicks, the setting was executed perfectly. Four gaudily decorated chairs formed the main focal point of the stage, and from the moment the audience entered the space the focus of the play was shown to be on the emotional content, and a sense of real intimacy with the cast. Other stage dressing included a bicycle and old trunk, as well as clothing racks adorned with boas and sequinned dresses. This mix of the glamorous and the quotidian subtlety highlighted one of the major themes of the play: the tension that the profession can place on a performer’s day to day life. This was highlighted no more poignantly than in the interview with Danielle (Olivia Griffiths), who told of how her stripping eventually destroyed her and her girlfriend’s relationship as it began to dominate her life.

The acting on show was largely of a very high standard, with only one or two moments where lines seemed a little too dramatically delivered. All four of the actors playing the performers brought a verve to their characters - which as mentioned can be extremely difficult with only a transcript with which to work. Indeed, the end performance concluded with short video clips with each of the real women whose stories the audience had just heard, and the extent to which each actor had managed to capture their real world counterpart certainly deserves high praise. Becky Sage’s portrayal of the interviewer deserves particular praise, given the difficulty of having to at once bring to life her character in its own right, whilst also allowing the interviewee to have the required attention. A talent for impeccably delivered reactions served Sage well here.

In dealing with a very sensitive and provocative issue the cast and directorial team show a control and a maturity that is to be commended. However, verbatim theatre will always have integral problems that are almost impossible to solve as a director, and for this reason the play did lack a certain forcefulness. Despite this, STRIP was a successful show which both shed light and excited conversation on the the stripping industry.

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Ella Wilks-Harper

at 10:14 on 20th Mar 2015

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The intimate venue of the Alma Tavern Theatre, opens theatre-goers to the new verbatim play ‘STRIP’. The audience are led in through the stage, immediately bringing the audience into the world of the strippers and burlesque dancers, with feathers and glitter scattered everywhere.

The play enacts real footage of Jade Berk's interviews with burlesque dancers and strippers as she sets out to find out the truth behind widespread preconceptions surrounding their occupations. Jade Berk (writer, co-director, and producer) is played by Becky Sage and her chorus-like role as the nervous, uptight presenter leads the audience comically into each of the four dancer’s lives, as her initial reservations of the industry gradually alter.

The stage is remarkable in its ability to adapt to each of the four interviews - it is transformed into the interior of a burlesque dressing room, a coffee shop and a skype interview. All achieved by only five chairs and a trunk full of costumes, including a beard and a giant inflatable hammer, which I warn front row audience members to prepare for!

The audience learn a lot about the anxiety surrounding the distinction between burlesque dancers and strippers. The burlesque dancer Gia (Florence Espeut-Nickless) insists on the female empowerment of burlesque dancing which stripping does not provide. Additionally the audience learn about the addictive nature of stripping as we are taken into the world of Danielle (Olivia Griffiths), a lesbian who only pursued stripping to gain an extra income in order to buy a coffee shop with her girlfriend. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of all four of the women’s interviews is their mutual inability to sustain their personal lives. It is societies’ widespread negative preconceptions that prevent them from sustaining relationships and lead some to hide their profession all together. However, due to the comical aspect of each character’s portrayal with some having their first time dancing re-enacted, it is at times difficult for audience to fully feel gripped by their hardships and to understand why they continue in their profession.

It is only until Moonshine Bonanza (Stephanie Crother), a real life Youtube vlogger, who posts about her stripping career, that the audience is truly captivated and successfully removes our preconceptions of stripping through her batman pyjamas, her vibrancy, and complete badass attitude towards society's judgements. Her interview with the reporter is through skype - a humorously accurate portrayal as her skype camera initially fails to turn on. Moonshine's alternative role as a stoned waitress is probably one of the most hilarious moments of the play.

Perhaps the best aspect of the play is the end, when the audience are shown the real footage of the four interviews. It is then that the audience fully acknowledge the accomplishments of the actors as their depictions are revealed as incredibly accurate.

Overall with the reporter asking the exact same questions to each of the four women, it felt at times that her negative judgement towards them would never end. Consequently her final epiphany where she finally realises that some strippers and burlesque dancers actually enjoy their jobs was an irritatingly, delayed finality to a play which has so much potential.

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