For one night only as part of their Fringe Preview Season, Bunker Theatre in London Bridge welcomes Whalebone, the most recent work by Hatch It Theatre. Formed by three graduates of the University of Oxford, the company aim to create socially conscious and experimental theatre. Their work explores social issues through its relationship to its audience, and the troupe have performed at some of London’s leading arts centres, such as The Courtyard and The Albany. Now preparing for a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Whalebone follows their most recent semi-verbatim production, In The Pink

Narrated by a talking vagina, Whalebone is a derisive form of feminist theatre. Reimagining Laura from The Original of Laura, the unfinished and lesser known sister novel of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, the piece combines puppetry and physical theatre in a world that operates through a focus on the body and the physical sensations of taking up space. Tightened and tucked by three puppeteers in corsets, Laura decides to take control of her body, deleting it piece by piece. Fifty-minutes in length, Whalebone sheds embarrassing shadows on the body, and gives an educational presentation on the reasons behind the need to control the human form.

Two microphones sit in front of a metal folding stool, a box labelled ‘Balloons’, and a vintage projector. Supported by a coat hanger, there is a beige bra and matching underwear hanging on the back wall. The band of three puppeteers arrive, led by Luke Howarth in a vibrant rouge trench coat, and armed with an umbrella of the same colour. With feet turned out in first position, he discards his over-garment sheepishly, revealing a white cotton corset fastened by scarlet laces.

Emma Brand and Luke Rollason followed suit, also sporting corsets over a basic black uniform. The three perform with an interesting and endearing sense of humour, breathing life into the youthful Laura, a puppet with a blank face and a red and white polka dot dress. She grows from a small doll and into a fully-fledged human, and her anatomy is shared across the bodies of the performers.

Laura’s anxieties about growing are shared with the audience as a voiceover. Her language is self-depreciating, and her thoughts are preoccupied with meditation, through which she is able to erase herself from the toes, upwards. The three explore the questions that Laura asks of herself, and aim to answer them through a presentation on ‘The History of Styles’. Aided by projection, they speak with tantalising effect, promising extraordinary and absurd benefits with each turnover. Shifts between ideal body shapes echo the past and current issues of female objectification, and the trio make quick work of these severe ideals to the tune of ‘Venus’ by Bananarama.

Knickers are turned in on themselves to create the lips of characters that surround Laura, and slowly she begins to obliterate herself. In response, Howarth, Brand and Rollason become invisible, limbs disappearing into the sleeves of their illustrious trench coat. Their participatory approach creates an innate sense of involvement, and the horrific sense of fullness seems to be catching. However, as the piece draws to a close, this connection begins to weaken, and once-innovative movements seem to lose purpose.

Hatch It Theatre have created a quirky and thought-provoking production in response to such complex subject matter. However, the conclusion itself felt underdeveloped, and seemed to grind to a halt instead of being brought to fruition. Some minor adjustments before their travels to Edinburgh would serve them very well.

Whalebone played at The Bunker Theatre on July 17. It is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe this August.