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?
Things That Do Not C(o)unt is at Waterloo East Theatre (part of Vault Festival 2018) until 18th March.