When you’re a child, there is no guilt, no shame, no pre-conceptions about how people should look or how a life should be lived. When you’re a child, questions such as “what do you like about your body?” seem alien, because why would somebody not like something about their body? But once you’re an adult, suddenly the pressures around creating and maintaining a pleasing aesthetic mount. Suddenly there is a desire, some might say a need, to buy beauty products, to preen and pluck and wax. To quote queen diva Beyoncé, “you wake up, flawless” – and yet so many adults spend significant amounts of time perfecting that ‘flawless look’ before they dare to leave the house.
Currently at the Vault Festival, Claire Stone presents I Got Dressed in Front of My Nephew Today, an honest and equally hilarious play about an adult’s insecurities being highlighted by an innocent child. Katherine Vince is found by her two young nephews (voiceover and videos in this case) in a sea of used make-up and beauty products. “I woke up like this!”, her and Beyoncé simultaneously exclaim – Vince’s coiffed exterior in last night’s little black dress scarcely conceals a seemingly manic and deranged woman within. Or is she simply the majority of the population, secretly insecure about their appearance?
Stone mixes formal written letters, projected visuals, sound-clips and even interviews with the public to highlight the issues around body image and conforming to physical stereotype. But this isn’t a lecture; it isn’t rammed down the throats of the audience like a radical feminist pep rally. Stone writes about pressing issues with comedy and emotion and Vince is more than capable of translating these onto stage. Examples are highlighted and ridiculed, not only for their absurdity but also for the extent to which they are ingrained in everyday life. How many of us can claim to have gone into Boots hoping to buy one product, but handing over substantial sums of money on many things we claim we need, like the lip balm that is inevitably lost after two days? The stories of the earring stand (why we put metal in holes in our ears); the ritual of preparing for a night out (you feel like you’re a glamorous superstar, while in reality you’re frantically running around the flat washing and drying and applying and changing); Lush and their iridescent sparkle skincare range. All of these are daily ‘life fails’ that society accepts, but that Stone and Vince spell out whilst their audience disintegrate into fits of laughter.
But ultimately there is a message here – as toddlers, we don’t ever conceive of these issues. Stone writes about her first experience of being sexy (“You’re never too young to think about the power of your sexuality!”) and Vince acts out a movement piece (not unlike Maddy Ziegler in a Sia music video), whilst public opinions crackle through the sound system. The ending is a letter to her nephews for the future, very Caitlin Moran in style. Overall, a carefully crafted play that makes you laugh but equally makes you think – shouldn’t we learn to like our bodies just as they are and stop wasting time and money trying to change or conform? Shouldn’t we learn to see once more through the eyes of a child?
I Got Dressed In Front of My Nephew Today is playing at Brick Hall as part of the Vault Festival until 7 February. For more information and tickets, see the Vault Festival website.