In a world currently having a Barbie moment, the striking opening image of Frankie Thompson as Barbie and Liv Ello as Ken feels supremely topical. Even more current, however, is this sharp and vital exploration of gender constraints and obsession with body image.
Following on from their highly successful solo shows, Body Show brings Thompson and Ello together in this anarchic, electric piece of performance art. Making full use of Cara Evans’ smart, multifunctional set, the pair reveal an apocalyptic present that draws on adverts, imagery and audio from both the distant and recent past.
Through their physicality, movement, lip-synching and direct address, both performers land gut-punches of recognition on their audience. The mirrors to mental health, masculinity and disordered eating all hit home. Ello’s character being told as a child that only boys can be cowboys, shown that Action Man is the ideal, and skilfully utilising Ken’s lack of genitalia as a way to examine gender dysphoria is powerful and affecting. Thompson expertly mouths the words of ill-fated child star Lena Zavaroni and absorbs the repeated images reinforcing the need for women to be thin, including a section from The X Factor that is too recent not to raise a gasp.
The stylised, dream-like quality of the piece suddenly gives way to a naturalistic exchange that brings the parallels to the performers’ experiences home. Andrew Tate, Love Island, Naked Attraction—the current contributors to this toxic soup—do not avoid scrutiny. This is a production that touches the wounds you didn’t know you had, and applies some salt to those you did. Ethereal, palpable, sincere and crucial: Body Show makes you think as much as it makes you feel.
By Deborah Klayman
Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello: Body Show plays at Pleasance Courtyard until August 27th 2023.