Foreign Body

Imogen Butler-Cole
The Vaults

Imogen Butler-Cole Credit: Chantal Guevara
Imogen Butler-Cole Credit: Chantal Guevara
Imogen Butler-Cole Credit: Chantal Guevara

When Cassandra in the Ancient Greek myth refuses Apollo’s sexual advances, he assaults her and then ensures that her truth will never be believed.

And that’s the way it can still remain. Not just because the institutions crack down on anyone who rocks the boat, and that is something the #MeToo movement is publicly challenging, but also because it is never a simple thing to tell on a father, on a partner or someone you still care for.

Foreign Body conveys very movingly both that complicated silence and the testimony of those who have been abused.

A woman (Imogen Butler-Cole) sits on a hard chair centre-stage surrounded by a semi-circle of seven standing mirrors. She never speaks, but her movements, her dance give us some indication of the way she feels and they act as a mirror or a response to the voiceovers of the women and one man we hear but never see.

She watches herself in a mirror; she dances to thumping club music. She whirls round in circles. She is always conscious of the chair. She walks round it, looks sternly at it, and at one point carries it like a huge weight on her cramped body. Eventually, she lifts an imaginary stick and gestures as if to smash the chair.

But it is the voices recounting experience of abuse that especially grab our attention. A woman recalls being repeatedly raped at the age of thirteen over a period of four to five hours by two American students who she was convinced would kill her.

Another woman talks about staying over after a social and waking up in the night to find a man inside her.

And the trauma doesn’t end with the departure of the men. A voice tells us she felt ashamed of her body, and one woman says she is left feeling defective.

There are flashbacks and triggers usually related to sex and difficulties in trusting people, particularly men.

A man confesses to trying to force a woman to have sex with him and the day after being appalled at his behaviour and ashamed.

There is no attempt to monster the men who have abused or the others who failed to stop it happening. Instead, there is an emphasis on healing and restorative justice.

But a voice asks, how there can be healing while it still goes on?

Each performance is accompanied by a panel of women leading the audience of women and men after the show in a discussion on the issues raised.

Meanwhile across the city, events were still taking place for International Women’s Day, when some had been out on strike and others gathered in Russell Square at lunchtime for an Assembly of Women to talk about a year when the struggle for women’s rights seemed to be changing the world.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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