Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Almost the Same (Feral Rehearsals for Violent Acts of Culture), Chelsea Theatre

Review: Almost the Same (Feral Rehearsals for Violent Acts of Culture), Chelsea Theatre

Published on Culture Wars, 08.11.2010

Hanging from her hands are two skinned hares. The meat of one glimpses through an armour of flecked tin-foil. The other is mummified with cream bandages. Later a pair of white wings are attached to its back, as they hang from meat hooks, swinging in sync. Together they are oddly serene in their state of slow decay despite half-hearted preservation.

This is the level of horror that runs through Julia Bardsley and Andrew Poppy’s latest collaboration. Its ghastly images never explode before you, sending you spiralling in shocked recoil. Rather they are slow-burning terrors that dangle before you, festering away at your sensibilities. The longer you look, the more alarmingly transfixing they appear. With Poppy’s eerie, reverberating soundtrack wearing down any defences, Almost the Same works like a slow-turning corkscrew, mining imperceptibly into your sub-conscious.

From her first appearance, sat illuminated in the stalls writhing lavae-like in a PVC cocoon, Bardsley presents an elusive, puzzling figure. One looks first to discern the image, almost squinting to try and work it out, to make sense by understanding its constituent parts. Later she appears in a faux-fur coat, fishnet mascara and plasticised wig, unnatural in the complete uniformity of its colour. This get up is repeated for each of the three sections, first in brown, then bright red and, finally, white.

Throughout Almost the Same the synthetic is juxtaposed with the natural, the non-biodegradable with the dead and decaying. It is as if a modern – even oddly futuristic – woman has resorted to the wilderness, escaping the expectations of urban domesticity for a primitive existence of totemic rituals.

In all this Bardsley is positioning herself against us. From the moment we step into the space, we are carefully positioned into a triangle. We are regimented. Our formation – a side, rather than a point, faces her – is defensive, even nervy. The one squares up against the many. She has opted out of the socially normative. Perhaps that is why we view her with such horror and trepidation.

And yet, as the title makes clear, that opposition is not across a vast chasm. It is a slight twist that changes everything, throwing it into antithesis. We say hair, she says hare; we say can’t, she says cunt. This creature before us resides within us all. She is not without human traits: there is a tender maternal quality to her treatment of objects and corpses, which sits next to an animal instinct and affinity with the natural environment, the natural order. This is us stripped of the pressures of sanitation and society. That makes Almost the Same all the more achingly terrifying.

Photograph: Manuel Vason

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