This real-life quartet of friends perform Lydia Higginson's personal account of being stripped at gun point in dressed. - a complex collaboration. Daniel Perks reviews:

The three friends are constantly checking in on Lydia Higginson. Throughout dressed. they give her supportive looks, tender touches, reassurances to let her know they are close by. In a story retelling Higginson’s ordeal of being stripped at gunpoint far away from home, her three best friends aren’t out of sight anymore.

The audience are stripped by the truth in dressed. too. It’s the brutal honesty that does it. As Higginson looks her spectators right in the eye, she mixes unfettered reality with performance art in a way that conveys the turmoil of her emotional state with more gravitas than words alone ever could.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 dressed.

Lydia Higginson (image courtesy of Lidia Crisafulli)

As a piece, dressed. may seem fragmented, a series of performance ideas that fluidly switch from one to another. But this production is in fact one of the most cohesive pieces up at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018. Because it is truly cross-collaborative and yet hangs around a singular narrative, a set of core concepts that are universally understood and deeply felt.

How do you tell your friends? You can’t drop it into conversation.

How do you piece yourself back together? You feel so broken.

How do you support one that you love as you see her fade away in front of you?

Because dressed. is about more than Higginson. It’s about her fellow performers and real-life friends Josie Dale-Jones, singer Nobahar Mahdavi and dancer Olivia Norris. dressed. throws as much focus onto them as it does onto Higginson, centred under the spotlight as she feverishly sits behind her sewing machine and ploughs through seam after seam, stitch after stitch. The others often watch from the side lines, feeling as helpless as the onlooking audience. A heartbreaking piece is delivered in second person – the friends watching their sister crumble.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 dressed.

Josie Dale-Jones, Lydia Higginson, Olivia Norris & Nobahar Mahdavi (image courtesy of Lidia Crisafulli)

But as Higginson sews, she finds her voice again. When she howls, the friends howl too. When she needs mannequins for the clothes, they play the part. And when she laughs and dances with childlike glee, they join in. Because as friends, what else would they do?

As an ensemble, the four performers have chemistry that transcends this stage – it reaches back into their past and builds from real life experiences that bind them together. And this translates into their interlinking talents too. Norris’ choreography is always mindful of Higginson’s costumes; Dale-Jones’ theatrical staging supports rather than overshadows Mahdavi’s vocals. In one moment, there is light-hearted comedy that cuts close to the bone; in another, there is movement that renders its subject morphed and inhuman. All aspects convey a complex plethora of conflicting intentions, but dressed. is a complex piece in so many ways. It talks about being broken down and yet its title suggests being put together. It mixes tenderness into moments of vacant silence. It finds joy in periods of introspection.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 dressed.

Nobahar Mahdavi, Josie Dale-Jones, Lydia Higginson & Olivia Norris (image courtesy of Lidia Crisafulli)

The four performances aren’t polished. Not should they be. Because dressed. is more than a production – it’s a life, an individuality that is told through amalgamation. And it hits something deep within its audience. Without having first-hand experience of Higginson’s past, dressed. allows its viewers to empathise with her feelings of being lost and alone, of being found and together. The clothes; the friends; the emotions – they are protection and comfort and joy.

 

 

★★★★☆

dressed. runs at Underbelly Cowgate as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 until 26 August 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.