Interview: Charlotte Fox, Ouroboros

Ever felt like you’re not quite good enough? You’re not alone. In her debut solo show Ouroboros (named after an ancient symbol that depicts a snake eating its own tail, in an eternal cycle of renewal), writer and performer Charlotte Fox tackles society’s obsession with ego, superficiality, social media, narcissism and body image, and explores their effects on Charlotte, an actress in the entertainment industry.

“I was inspired to write Ouroboros by frustration with the lack of acting work,” explains Charlotte. “I was writing in response to what was happening around me, in my life and career experience. I struggled to reconcile with other people’s conflicting viewpoints. It felt like a constant battle, struggling against myself and having to obey an industry and society’s vision of ‘beauty’ and ‘perfection’ in order to fit in and seek acceptance.”

Charlotte Fox, Ouroboros

Following a run earlier this year at the Rosemary Branch, Charlotte is preparing to take the show to Edinburgh next month, where she hopes audiences will embrace its message and get involved. “It’s an explosive display on stage,” she says. “Ouroboros is like fireworks – a show that doesn’t come down, with highly physical and absurdist comedy elements, that discusses relevant and timely issues without being didactic. It has the ability to mix observational scenarios and parody them in a way that makes you laugh and cry before sending you away. It also combines music, dance, clowning, physical theatre, bouffon and a bit of mime!! One genre!? Naahh – chose ’em all!

“I’m looking forward to performing to a different audience everyday in Edinburgh. They all bring something different. You can sense it as soon as you step out. What one person might find disturbing can have another howling with laughter. It’s brilliant! I like sensing that, there’s interaction in this show and it’s fun as an actor discovering how you can play to the audience. Or how they are playing for you. I hope they’ll feel excited and moved by the whole experience, and have a willingness to re-examine their own lifestyle experiences, recall moments of similarity and most importantly laugh and perhaps squirm on the edge of their seats!”

The show, which is written, performed and directed by Charlotte, has been in development for the past year. “It’s been an incredible journey,” she says. “I wasn’t really too sure what to expect at the start – it was difficult, but I knew I was tapping into something important, I had an urge to keep exploring. I always knew the style of work I liked and had a vision of what I wanted to create. So collaborations with other like-minded theatre makers were made and Ouroboros started to flourish. I had a revelation when I realised not everyone will share your artistic vision. You have to be so strong and protect yourself against people who can try and contaminate your work… It was a big lesson for me.”

Performing the 60-minute solo show, in which Charlotte portrays “a conveyer belt of hyper-functional characters”, brings with it a number of physical and emotional challenges. “It’s a huge physical demand as a performer,” she says. “It’s also very close to the bone, which brings both a challenge and reward. I know that this show has left an impact on people in a similar situation. It’s sparked discussion. It’s also allowed me to find self-acceptance as an actor, allowing my own creativity and artistry to flourish regardless of what anyone says. You can decide to say yes to yourself.”

Review: Things That Do Not C(o)unt at Waterloo East Theatre

2018 is an interesting time to be a woman. On the one hand, it’s depressing to realise that we haven’t progressed as far as we might have hoped; on the other, it’s inspiring to see so many female role models emerging to tirelessly campaign for change.

One of these is Nastazja Somers of No Offence Theatre, who along with Bj McNeill has created experimental feminist show Things That Do Not C(o)unt, exploring themes of body positivity and female sexuality. Following in the footsteps of the similarly daring Torn Apart (Dissolution), this solo show is a bold, visceral and uncompromising hour of theatre that’s clearly fuelled by frustration and an urgent need to speak out, but with a welcome smattering of humour that every woman in the room can relate to. In a twist, though, there’s also an autobiographical element to the show, as Somers looks back on her Polish heritage and reflects on its impact on her relationship with her body. And if all that doesn’t get your attention, there’s also free vodka.

Through a combination of performance – some in Polish – and video footage she lays herself bare, openly discussing sexual encounters and past struggles with self-image. It’s clear from the start this is not your typical one-woman show, as she spends the first few minutes eating a grapefruit with sensual relish, smiling serenely at the audience, and without saying a word. (Warning to the front row: you may get splattered by flying fruit juice. On the other hand, you’re also first in line for vodka – so I’ll leave you to weigh that one up.)

This isn’t the only food to be consumed during what turns out to be an extremely messy show, as Somers examines with increasing passion the conflict between enjoying food (and sex) and the inevitable guilt that so often follows in the wake of society’s disapproval and judgment. And that judgment doesn’t only come from men, but from women too: her mother wishes aloud that she was “a bit anorexic”, other girls at school tease her about her early development, and a disembodied female voice repeatedly brings up the subject of body image, insisting “diet, exercise” is the answer to everything. Yet despite all this, it’s her grandmother’s message – one of positivity and unconditional acceptance – that she chooses to hold on to.

It’s not always comfortable to watch (fish guts, anyone…?), and is definitely not your traditional night at the theatre – but at the same time it’s impossible not to be inspired by the fearlessness, energy and power of Nastazja Somers’ performance, or to feel the powerful impact of Things That Do Not C(o)unt‘s taboo-smashing content.

Also, did I mention the free vodka?

Interview: Bric à Brac, Just Lose It

Following the success of their first production, Ash, international ensemble Bric à Brac have begun developing their next project, Just Lose It, an immersive show about weight loss and body image. “Our audience is introduced to different members of our fictional weight loss programme, The Bin the Belly Weightless Corporation. By poking fun at our society’s obsession with body image we hope to shed light on the ridiculousness of this subject whilst instilling confidence in everyone that we are all lovely just the way we are!

“It’s a fairly young idea. We started talking about it half a year ago, and had a couple of workshops playing around with the theme. But the actual creation of the show is happening right now. We’re doing a research and development showing at The Space on 10th May, to learn and get feedback. If all goes to plan, we’ll continue developing after summer.”

Bric à Brac’s aim is to tackle difficult and relevant subject matter with clever, dynamic, and humorous storytelling. “Our collaborative process allows for a more diversified and unique take on these issues. We want our audiences to have fun, leaving them with questions and not necessarily all of them answered. If we can provoke laughter and meaningful discussion through our work then I’d say we’ve done a good job.”

The idea for the show came initially from director Anna Marshall’s own experience. “We’d been touring and working on Ash for nearly two years and as a group we were looking for our next challenge,” she explains. “Two years of Ash also meant two years out of Lecoq; I noticed that my body had changed from stopping the everyday exercise we were doing whilst training and I started becoming quite self conscious – I’d be nervous about going back to Yorkshire in case my family commented on whether or not I’d gained weight, and I realised that it was just stupid.

“After that I began thinking why I felt unhappy about it – I wasn’t clinically overweight or unhealthy, but I just didn’t feel like I looked great and I started noticing how magazines, adverts, Instagram etc were showing me images of how I wanted to look. Once I started looking for it I realised how mixed the messages I was being told were – ‘be healthy’, ‘be happy with yourself no matter what’, ‘do this three-day detox to be beach ready’ – and I thought this could be an incredibly rich topic to explore.”

Just Lose It is an immersive promenade experience, in which the audience is split into five teams, each led by a different cast member. “Bric à Brac company members’ individual talents in comedy and improvisation come into their own here, allowing each audience member to have a slightly different experience depending on who their leader is.

“The structure of the piece allows for a more engaging way of addressing the subject matter for the audience. In order to achieve this bold and immersive presentation, we’re using the R&D time at The Space to research further the insecurities of calorie-counters and the competition these pyramid structures of weight loss can create. The aim is to create the feel of a ‘night out’ whilst we delve into the grotesque greed of this weight loss group and their hunger to win big, by losing large.

“We believe the style we’ve chosen is the perfect way to present this subject, as it takes the form which is used commercially to market against a healthy body image through a Weight Watchers slimmers programme. This show is not intended to mock these groups, as slimming programmes encourage people to achieve their ideal weight through togetherness, and provide a great support structure to do so. The aim is to challenge the presentation of a negative body image that goes hand in hand with these slimming programmes.”

The company believe the show has something to say to everyone, regardless of age, gender, size or shape. “Weight loss, and more specifically body image, is something we all think about, whether we’re aware of it or not. Our society is crammed full of pressures on what you eat, how you exercise and what you wear for your shape. Popcorn instead of crisps, sold out boot camps and vertical stripes over horizontal. Adverts for health foods and gyms are purposely cross-generational, and often feature young adults to pensioners, proving that anyone can be fit. This show should investigate just how universal a topic body image is, hence how important it is for us to understand it better.

“We’re hoping audiences go away thinking ‘yeah, I’m happy with the way I am’. Or at least happy to discuss their body issues and find a better solution to feeling more comfortable in their own skin than resorting to programmes, crazy diet plans and hardcore fitness regimes because society ‘tells’ them to change the way they look. It’s about being healthy mentally and physically. That’s different for everyone.”

The members of Bric à Brac, who are from Britain, Jersey, America and Norway, founded the company on their graduation in 2015. “We all met and trained together at Jacques Lecoq in France. In a nutshell, Lecoq is about using movement to explore a huge range of theatrical styles, from clown and bouffon to tragedy and melodrama, whilst always placing an emphasis on a collaborative process. I guess there is quite a strong preconception that Lecoq ensembles solely produce ‘physical theatre’ – which is not completely untrue – but I also think there is so much more to it than that.

Just Lose It, an immersive, promenade show, might not seem at first sight to be in a distinctively Lecoq style, but it nonetheless gives us an amazing opportunity as a company to draw on our shared background. There are absurd characters aplenty, undertones of cabaret, and hopefully a healthy amount of silliness to keep our audience-cum-participants laughing along!”

Check out Bric à Brac’s Just Lose It on 10th May at The Space.