Foreign Body is a beautifully crafted performance piece. Imogen Butler-Cole is in tune with her movement, every act a meaningfully made point.

Foreign Body’s programme is prefixed with a statistic,

One third of our women have survived sexual violence

Performer Imogen Butler-Cole puts herself at the centre of this – a open and honest account about the times that she was sexually violated. It’s an amalgamation of other accounts too, represented by the seven mirrors in Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s set. The people can’t be seen, but the reflections reminds us that we are all affected, we are all responsible. And we are no longer fine, as the opening to Foreign Body suggests.

Butler-Cole is unafraid to incorporate movement into this artistically realised production. She manipulates a chair, the only prop, keeping it close at hand. It’s not so much a safety blanket as it is a tool for interrogation. Sitting on it, we are constantly put under the microscope, judged by the outside world and judging ourselves within our own subconsciousness. Fran Moulds’ direction of Foreign Body incorporates a number of such metaphors, all of which are effortlessly interwoven into an onslaught of truth that demands something be done. Butler-Cole is weighed down by the pressure of it all; she tows the line and tries not to stumble; she circles the chair as if it were prey.

Several different accounts provide the melodic soundscape for this performance – disembodied voices that add to the out of body, existential surrealist tones pervading Foreign Body. Tara Franks and Filipe Sousa compose an accompaniment of carefully placed harmonics – scratchy, almost metallic sounds that translate in a synesthetic atmosphere. We can feel the sounds itching under our skin like the violations on our identities, invading our most private and personal places with unstoppable intent. It’s hard to fight back, to rally against such an overwhelming force.

Foreign Body proceeds to make us feel ashamed. Butler-Cole tires of fighting, she appears drawn and exhausted at having to be strong. And then the male voice cuts through the din, the most harrowing of tones. It’s the attacker, the one who repents at what he’s done, who shames himself as his voice cracks with guilt and creeps past our defences. This one voice becomes an eye-opener within the show – the vulnerability inherent in all sides. It’s easier to hate the accused if they seem inhumanly evil, if they don’t repent or lament.

The show doesn’t compare everyone’s stories because they are so unique they cannot be compared – no one situation is milder or less important, less damaging than the other. Moulds allows the show to sit self-assuredly in the void of silence, an angry aftermath that in saying nothing, highlights everything. There is one final comment that ends Foreign Body more powerfully than all the devices or the movements ever could. It comes from a voice, echoing throughout the VAULT festival chamber,

I was raped and that doesn’t diminish me as a person

Rape far too often becomes the victim’s identity, marks them as a survivor. But we are still people, we are still us, despite these foreign bodies that attempt to steal a facet of our soul. Butler-Cole sits with the suffering; she invites us to repair, to remember who we are not what has happened. Foreign Body cuts to the core with grace and reminds us to heal.

 

 

★★★★☆

Foreign Body runs as part of the VAULT Festival until 11 March 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.