Helen Carrington reviews The Very Thought at the Bike Shed Theatre on January 28th as part of the From Devon with Love Festival.
I took my seat at the Bike Shed Theatre to see The Very Thought with some trepidation. All I knew was that it was a solo performance by Rose Biggin, a Drama PhD student, that it was a show about ‘being unsure what to think about things’, and that it contained feminism and pole-dancing. This went some way towards explaining the audience demographic which was compiled predominantly of female students, and several old men.
The theatre was the perfect setting for the intimate performance, and ‘Violet’ the pole-dancing instructor greeted her audience, the students of Intermediate pole-dancing at the ‘Vertical Expression Dance Studios’, who appeared to be invisible and located behind us.
The production was centred around the characterisation of Violet, an enthusiastic but somewhat vague part-time pole dancing instructor who appeared to be fighting a nervous breakdown for most of the performance.
The name of the dance school came from a line by George Bernard Shaw, ‘Dance: the vertical expression of horizontal desire legalised by music’, which captured the nature of the piece well, despite the frequent use of horizontals as well as verticals in pole-dancing.
Violet seemed constantly to be outside of her body, a state which she apologised for frequently, in between neurotically polishing the pole and describing various pole-dancing positions. At the opening of the performance, she appeared merely distracted, and she spent some time perched nonchalantly on top of the pole pondering which Shakespearean heroines might have pole-danced, before ruefully concluding that her English Literature BA had been put to good use.
As the performance went on, she seemed less able to keep her personal struggles inside, and her discussion of abstract concepts such as romance, sexuality, and the failure of relationships in terms of concrete imagery was particularly innovative and interesting, all the while interspersed with demonstrations of pole dancing which I was very impressed by.
Rose Biggin was a Miss Pole Dance UK national finalist several years ago, and her skill was clear, even through Violet’s broken and at times, reluctant movements.
The performance ended with a dramatic pole-dancing sequence during which Violet became less able to hold back tears behind her brightly smiling façade. Her pain was extremely poignant, perhaps because it described the relatable pain of uncertainty, grief and brokenness.
Despite its unusual nature, I enjoyed the performance, and thought it successfully combined comedy with pathos and pain. Pole dancing was used throughout as a metaphor for life, as well as a motto for the dance school. ‘Learn to do it, make it look easy, and don’t show how much you’re hurting.’
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