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Smack That (A Conversation) review at Barbican Pit, London – ‘inventive, immersive dance-theatre’

The cast of Smack That at Barbican Pit, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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There’s cider, popcorn and an air of frantic excitement at Beverly’s party. Six friendly host Bevs in silvery-grey dresses and wigs assign name tags, but here amongst the gold balloons everyone’s really a Beverly.

The games begin and the audience, encircling the performance space on pink chairs, join in with the confessional horseplay of Never Have I Ever, owning up to nipple mishaps, furtive shags and instances of incontinence.

But then things take a darker turn. The hysterical energy withers away. Each host Beverly reveals an experience of sexual violence, humiliation and isolation at the hands of a partner. Each silver-clad Beverly – three professional dancers and three non-professionals – is a real-life survivor of domestic abuse.

In Rhiannon Faith’s challenging dance-theatre, that’s what we’re here to confront and celebrate. It’s a work that’s admirably personal and political, that directly inveighs against the government’s shameful lack of interest in and provision for an epidemic of gendered violence: in England and Wales a woman is killed by a partner or ex-partner every three days.

There’s an effective rawness to the spoken sections; the theatrical space a forum for testimony and resilience rather than polished commodity. The dancers plunge through full-bodied sequences of crumpled collapse and support, their legs extended in shaky, but nonetheless resolute, balances. In the most disturbing section, one blank-faced Bev repeatedly shoves another’s face into a cake, the victim reassembling the crumbs for each ritual of degradation and dominance. Bold, inventive and discomfiting, this is a work of urgent importance.

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Inventive and demanding immersive dance-theatre by survivors of domestic abuse