Often before I perform I imagine roots from my feet growing and twisting around the earth. I remember distinctly from the 2017 tour of ‘Frontal Lobotomy’, thinking before every performance; I give it over to you, whatever happens happens. Who ‘you’ is I don’t know. There is some strange alchemy going on in a live performance, and for a nervous, reluctant performer as I am, handing it over feels appropriate. Obviously I’ve rehearsed, and my props are in the right place, and my eyelashes are glued on, but the rest is up to ‘you’. I remember an earlyish gig at The Wet Spot in Leeds, where Fancy Chance diligently instructed me how to glue on my lashes. I was a useless burlesque performer in many ways, totally clueless, and insistent on doing things my way. Why does it matter how good my make-up is, and how many rhinestones I have on my costume, I thought. If the story is good enough, and my acting is good enough, and the right items of clothing come off at the right time in the right way - and if they don’t then I’ll style it out - then it doesn’t matter that my costumes and props were homemade and sourced from charity shops. I was always the plain jane in line ups, I always felt the least polished, I didn’t invest £2000 in my costumes, and I felt some kind of masochistic pride in that. Watch me for the content, not the sparkles, I thought. Deeply misguided perhaps.
It was Peta Lily who gave me faith in my writing. Write your own version of ‘Pasties and a G-string’, she said, you know far more about burlesque than Tom Waits does. So I did. I basically plagiarised the entire rhythm and structure of that beat poem, told it from my point of view, it’s still one of my favourite parts of ‘Frontal Lobotomy.’ The spirit of inspiration visited me the day I wrote that. And the spirit has been back this week. Having had my cogs oiled by the dark clown workshop, I’ve written a piece of dialogue that I’d been toiling over for a while, and I have ideas for four more pieces to write. After that ‘Jeu Jeu la Foille’s Testy Manifesto’ is done. It’s taking me forever, a total mishmash, makes no fucking sense, the usual story. AND I speak French in it. I really know how to make life difficult.
The truth is it has been so so hard to write a piece about domestic abuse, from me, as a survivor. I am haunted by the past, it has affected everything in my life since. I am clouded by rage, with intrusive thoughts, I cannot trust, I run away or withdraw, I’m hyper-vigilant and often triggered. I started writing ‘Testy Manifesto’ initially as a way to cope, now I’m working out how to make it palatable; using what Peter Levine calls ‘pendulation.’ Like a good massage, a little bit painful, and then aahhh...relax. It’s trauma informed, I hope it’s accessible, it’s funny, strange and true. And I have no interest in making theatre that’s me just sitting around having a lovely time, where’s the fun in that?!
I hope to bring it to an invited, highly sanitised and socially distanced London audience before the year is out. Let’s see, nothing is certain anymore.
Photo credit: Ale Filizzola. Costume by Faye McKeever, for the London College of Fashion.