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

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.

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

Production

Production
Smack That
Venue
Barbican Pit
City
London
Starts
June 12, 2018
Ends
June 16, 2018
Press night
June 12, 2018
Creator
Rhiannon Faith, devised by the cast
Set
Amelia Jane Hankin
Lighting
Azusa Ono
Costume
Rhiannon Faith
Stage manager
Tom Cotteril (stage manager), Anna-Magdalena O’Brien (assistant stage manager)
Production manager
Genevieve Giron
Cast includes
Rebekah Dunn, Valerie Ebuwa, Yukiko Masui, Maddy Morgan, Holly Stevenson-Phipps, Casey Tohill
Producer
Maddy Morgan
Running time
1hr 20mins