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The Hamilton Complex review at Unicorn Theatre – ‘loud, raw and utterly joyous’

Scene from The Hamilton Complex at Unicorn Theatre, London. Photo: Fred Debrock
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Named after British photographer David Hamilton whose photos depicted nude teenagers, this boisterous addition to LIFT 2016 is a thrilling, screaming chimera of dance, poetry, song and games. Puberty, patriarchy, paedophilia and pregnancy all come under scrutiny as 13 girls, all aged 13, explore the transition between child and adult, between innocence and its loss.

Although it’s directed by Lies Pauwels, she claims many of the ideas in The Hamilton Complex came from the girls. They are clearly in charge, they know what symbols are potent and use them to powerful effect: they dress as airline hostesses, as schoolgirls, as Red Riding Hood. Even from these costumes the show questions the stories and aspirations that girls are fed.

In one scene the smallest girl, Lovely, dances with a huge male bodybuilder. As Lovely charges at the man, hugs him, as he tosses her around like a football, or returns her embrace the relationship reconfigures. Father/daughter? Boyfriend/girlfriend? Innocent, pederastic, touching, sinister?

Scenes revel in vacillation between darkness and light. For an adult male sitting in the audience, a bunch of 13 year old girls flashing their knickers is uncomfortable. For a fellow 13 year old girl, however, it’s just a cheeky game.

The 13 performers are uniformly astounding, finding detail and depth in their every pose and gesture. They spit back into society’s face the stuff that’s done to them. It’s raucous, it’s depressing. It’s loud, raw and utterly joyous.

Most of all, the show is about control. These girls storm and conquer the Unicorn Theatre’s stage. In doing so, they take back control from a world that’s denied it to them. “Ardeur de la vie” they sing in the opening song; for them and their generation, never more true.

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13 girls look at growing up in a raw, raucous, complex performance