Camden Fringe Reviews: Keep It Down, What Makes A Body Terrifying + A Splash of Milk

A new set of Camden Fringe Reviews: Keep It Down and What Makes A Body Terrifying at the Hope Theatre and A Splash of Milk at the Hen and Chickens

I try to reassure myself that the extra kilo is a trapped fart I haven’t managed to part with yet, or potentially even the semen I swallowed last night

There’s always something fascinating to me about a play that is described as semi-biographical as you’re left wondering which are the ‘true’ bits, is this person really as funny as they’re presenting themselves onstage? If it is halfway there, then Emma Oldfield seems like she’d be a brilliantly filthy and hilarious pal. But the real subject at hand here is the eating disorder that dominates the life of central character Daisy, and its portrayal speaks of hard-lived truth.

Keep It Down is a slice of Daisy’s life as she tries to balance a City job and a fully engaged circle of friends with managing the eating disorder that threatens to dominate everything. She starts off by saying she used to have one but that she’s “normal weight” now, pointing out clearly that it is something she lives with rather than something that can be cured, even as she dances around the NHS treatment plans with which she’s given.

Oldfield proves a highly captivating performer, thrillingly direct in her delivery and this is what you need when the subject is as visceral as this. For the descriptions of the many, many coping mechanisms she’s developed are eye-opening to say the least. And as she riffs on the way culture shapes and dictates her (and our) relationship with food, we see how difficult it must be to try and break those patterns. You suspect there’s more than a little of Oldfield’s soul bared here and it makes for a show which is both highly affecting and instructive.

There’s something equally bold in bringing a devised show to a fringe festival, which is what The Not-God Complex have done with What Makes A Body Terrifying?. Blending movement, puppetry, folk songs, audio clips, pseudo-verbatim passages, folk dancing, sound design and more besides, a richly evocative but highly abstract collage is built up over the space of an hour. And in the manner of much devised theatre, it proves to be equal parts beautiful and baffling.

They promise “a queer exploration of two strikingly similar folk tales” about mythical and menacing sea-people – the Slavic Rusalke (embodied here by Billie Grace) and the Celtic Selkie (Zoë Glen) – and also contrasts their use of fear with the way fear is generated against queer bodies. Without the show’s literature to inform us thus, you might be hard-pressed to identify that as Bethan Barke as director and dramaturg emphasises atmospheric immersion over narrative clarity.

And so one’s enjoyment of the show will depend on how willing one is to take the deep dive down with the seafolk. Repeated motifs beguile up to a certain point but so much repetition, particularly when encased in gnomic haziness, can begin to wear as it precludes the collated segments from gaining more collective weight. That said, there are moments that shine through – the textures of Rebeka Dió’s sound design, the haunting melodies of ‘Dongó’ Balázs Szokolay’s music, the chilling realisation of (male) violence being enacted and celebrated on (female) queer bodies. If it didn’t fully float my boat, I still absolutely admire the experimentation and ambition on display here.

Circumstances dictated that Pink Milk Theatre’s A Splash of Milk was presented as a script-in-hand work-in-progress. But even with that in mind, there’s a sense of real potential in Sami Sumaria’s monologue, not least in how it expands the proliferation of LGBT+ narratives to include queer people of colour. Sumaria plays Sunny, going through something of a quarter-life-crisis as they’re forced to move back into their suburban childhood bedroom.

The show then cycles through something of the experience of dating while being a person of colour. These are eye-wincingly acute, stinging with a sense of real authenticity in the way they present the differing levels of racism that bleed through society, from shockingly overt cruel games to insidiously subconscious passing remarks. Sumaria conveys a powerful evocation of how gruelling that can be, when all Sunny wants is a hunky tall guy to rail him.

There’s also biographical snippets that take us out of the gay dating world, to provide a wider context – the complexities of their Indian/Pakistani heritage, trying to get through US border control on a school trip, still relying on your mum to iron your shirts… These vary the subject effectively but overall, the tone of the show does feel a little overwhelming – writing and performance could afford to allow a little more levity or lightness to fully engage its audience rather than just speaking to it. For this is a message that deserves to be heard.   

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