The Space’s Labyrinth Diet is a nuanced, comical and intelligent dive into contemporary issues surrounding self-acceptance. The protagonist, Louise, attends a clothes swap party which ends up highlighting her own insecurities – the play explores complex notions surrounding feminism, class and body-shaming, whilst also being laugh out loud funny.
From the start, Labyrinth Diet’s intersectionality instantly appeals to me. Issues surrounding weight and self-esteem weave effortlessly in between a narrative concerning social class and elitism. Louise’s feelings of embarrassment and isolation at Lucinda’s clothes-swapping party stem from both her class and size difference: a complicated, tangled web that results in conflicted and confused emotions that are elucidated perfectly by Laura Horton’s script and Anjelica Serra’s acting.
Serra’s acting is delightfully physical and emotive, and her impressive range is highlighted by the fact that she acts out six women at a party (including the protagonist, Louise); she is the only person on the stage and yet the set feels full. At the start of the piece, as Louise, she is a literal wallflower; she backs up against the edges of the set, hands splayed out as if she is trying to sink through to the other side. However, by the end of the play, she transforms. She takes up the centre stage, spreads her body across the space, shouts, dances and it is a wonderful reflection of the mental and physical journey Louise has undertaken throughout the play.
However, something does not sit right with me. Louise elicits total sympathy from the audience, yet the other women are portrayed in an almost totally negative light. Their elitism, snobbery and judgemental attitudes certainly deserve to be addressed, but this sits alongside a critique of their obsession with diet culture. The lack of food at the party is highlighted, alongside the low-fat hummus and carrot sticks, and the reluctance to open packets of crisps. I dislike the use of dieting as a way of judging others as I firmly believe that it is an oppressive tool of pervasive capitalism and the patriarchy – all women are oppressed by it, both consciously and subconsciously. The other women deserve our sympathy too.
Towards the end of the play, however, Louise explores the connections between diet culture and oppression, and in one scene all the women shake off their differences and join Louise as she dances, eats, and loves herself. It is a joyous and life-affirming scene of coming together as one, and this is what makes it painful when it is revealed that the scene is nothing but a dream sequence. In fact, Louise dances alone, is rejected by the group, and leaves.
As gut-wrenching as I find this, I believe that it teaches me an important lesson. Yes, one of the key goals of feminism surely must be a united collective of mutual support and aid. However, as the realism of the play notes, this is a utopian ideal, a dream that does not yet reflect contemporary society.
This is where the play comes into its own. I like to see it as a blueprint for the future. Louise’s journey from self-loathing to self-love throughout Labyrinth Diet is one which I hope predicts the future. The journey is, of course, categorically different for different people, as lived realities differ widely, especially for those who come from BIPOC and/or lower socio-economic backgrounds and those who live in places around the world where oppression is beyond that which I have experienced. However, in my wildest dreams, one day, Louise’s dream might become reality; someday, far in the future, women will be able to dance with each-other in freedom.
Labyrinth Diet is playing The Space until 12 June. For more information and tickets, see The Space’s website.