Girl in Suitcase
6 August 2011
At Mascara Bar, Stoke Newington, London.
This show was the first performance of ‘Girl in Suitcase’ – the identity my performances would assume throughout this decade. It was very autobiographical at the outset, incorporating themes that emerged from ‘An Ordered Kaosz’ and ‘Assisting Sara’.
The play was about a cross-generational clash, and the mending of this. It was about the parallels in the daughter’s life, and how through the needs of her mother – a character with little or negative outlook in life, made worse by her disability – their relationship is softened and made closer. The mother is approaching death, and this throws a bold new light on their lives.
Another inspiration was life modelling, and a particular tutor I worked with at a school of fine art back at the beginning of 2009. She walked with a stick and was totally eccentric. Visually she was striking, and her character had presence; she slightly resembled my mother as she’d once been, more than 10 years before, walking with a stick.
As I modelled and listened to her meanderings with the class, I conjured up a fictional character of her, an evil version who continually shifts between trying to be sinisterly kind to the model – who may also be a trafficked woman – and being downright nasty and torturing. I was playing with the idea of being a model and feeling trapped in one’s role, particularly as a woman. The idea of being unable to move and, when you might have an issue with your predicament, often you silence it under the guise of thinking it through more thoroughly just to be sure you really do have a problem before you tell anyone about it.
There was a link with women in the sex industry, where I also used to work, and how many of them feel trapped. The play only touches on that aspect, but for me it’s a big link with making a living out of my body’s natural propensity to be attractive to men. I may be a good model also, but I’ve also learned that many artists want slim, pretty women, not too old – or, if not, someone more unusual – and can sometimes be unkind in their observations to those that don’t fit.
A specific inspiration was having to take over caring for my mum when dad was incapacitated for a while. It shocked the hell out of me; what was involved, how much of the carer’s life it takes up, and how little I felt I could give, given that mum found it difficult to show love when I was young.
It wasn’t until she nearly died under a year before this time of caring for her, that she started to tell us, her family, that she loves us and is sorry about not being kinder before. After that, it became the first thing she would tell me every time I saw her.
Broadly the show is about my experience of feeling disenchanted with a conventional way of doing things while growing up, so rebelling; and then coming out the other end a bit more mature. It’s about facing death, and about finding a salvation through some sort of patience and endurance.
I was working with Jaki Loudon, a trained actress, so it became more about performing the script rather than physical theatre. There were still elements of physical work in a more surreal dream sequence, as in a few movements and gestures we were hinting at the emotional and psychological development of a character over the course of two decades. It became symbolic and is a visual metaphor.
The venue itself – a burlesque bar in Stoke Newington – was meaningful because the arrangement was made through an old contact from my drugged-up, sex industry past who was working there. The bar was run by women who were into promoting female-led performance. Many of the girls I knew worked in burlesque, domination, stripping… I was revisiting my past with a new edge.
Scenes from the live performance, photographed by David Alexander Murphy.
Promo flyer for the performance.