Manchester Theatre Awards

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Everything I See I Swallow (Week 53 Festival)

Tamsin Shasha and Maisy Taylor
Tamsin Shasha and Maisy Taylor
The Lowry, Salford
24 May 2018 to 26 May 2018


The Lowry’s Week 53 Festival has already given us a version of Swan Lake (Loch na hEala) that pushed the boundaries of what might be expected in a dance production. Now, Everything I See I Swallow looks set to have a similar impact upon aerial and acrobatics shows.

There is the sense of taking part in a clandestine operation as the audience is guided along corridors decorated by balloons and slogans to arrive backstage at The Dock – part of The Lowry normally used by technicians. The opening image of Everything I See I Swallow is provocative and unforgettable. Maisy Taylor, naked but for briefs, hangs suspended centre stage with her legs twisted behind and tied tightly by red ropes that dig into her skin. Tamsin Shasha calmly delivers a lecture refusing to call Taylor by name and referring to her as ‘The Installation’ and worse; assuring the audience that such objectification is the norm in the environment that we have just entered – that of Shibari; the ancient Japanese artistic form of rope bondage.

Surprisingly for an acrobatic show Everything I See I Swallow has a narrative that enables the cast to explore themes of sexuality, female empowerment, submission, trust and control. Tamsin Shasha is horrified to learn that her daughter (Taylor) has become an internet sensation by posting images of herself in bondage poses. As well as her maternal concern that Taylor may attract unwanted attention from internet stalkers there is a point of principle – Shasha is concerned that her daughter has betrayed the feminist beliefs by which she was raised. Shasha points out that women are almost always the subject of bondage fantasies while Taylor finds that being constrained is actually creative and liberating.

Considering the sexuality-charged topics covered in the show the arguments are articulated without passion possibly because Shasha and Taylor come from an acrobatics background rather than drama or vocal performance. Although the ideas expressed in the show are provocative and thought-provoking they are articulated in an over-wordy dry manner as if lifted from the textbooks that litter the stage. The show really comes to life when the cast have the confidence to communicate through visuals as well as words. The maternal instincts of Tamsin Shasha are beautifully articulated as Matt Easton’s sound designs bring to life a playground and Shasha frets and implores her daughter not to swing too high while daredevil Taylor strikes a ‘starfish’ pose high above the stage.

The aerial poses throughout the show are extreme and reflect those used in Shibari ; limbs are twisted at painful angles or the performers roll into tight, clenched positions as if for protection. The poses are almost abstract but serve to illustrate the trust between the duo who, in a stunning sequence, use each other as props, clambering over their partner or catching her at a crucial moment.

There is no safety net in Everything I See I Swallow and this applies also to the daring manner in which the show refuses to shy away from controversial subjects such as the erotic appeal of bondage. As a recorded voice-over describes the fetish attraction of being physically marked by a cane during sex-play the abrasions left by ropes are very clear on Taylor’s skin.

Everything I See I Swallow is a dark and demanding piece that might have even greater impact if the authors were willing to place greater trust in communicating through the physical displays and trim back some of the lengthy explanatory dialogue.

Reviewer: David Cunningham