Reviewed – 19th April 2022
“an exercise in acting of the kind that feels like one long improvisation”
Dirty Corset, produced as part of the 2022 New Work Season at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, is one of several shows on offer in a venue that has not only survived the pandemic, but seems to be thriving. That’s good news in these difficult times. Dirty Corset, directed by Helen Tennison for the Bang Average Theatre Company, seems like a good choice for this venue, as it is also about making a living in the theatre in difficult times. Dirty Corset is a “re-imagined” take on Restoration Comedy. But this show focuses on the fleas, and not the elegance, of post Civil War theatre. Modern, and even postmodern, playwrights have taken on this trope before. The Bang Average Theatre Company pushes it into new territory. Bad smells, and bad language, are the predominant themes.
To be fair, the actors do warn that Dirty Corset is loaded, if that is the right word, from the outset. The first thing the audience sees, in entering the space downstairs at the Pleasance, are the corsets themselves. These, and the other costume pieces hung from lines draped around the set, are clean, even blindingly white, clean. But no one should relax. It’s all an ironic set up for the grubbiness that follows. The seventy minute show excels in presenting the audience with incongruities throughout. Actors Laurie Coldwell, Chloe Darke and Susannah Scott go from minutes of lying inert on large, white cushioned squares while the audience files in, to exploding into action once the lights go down. The acting style is eye poppingly physical. Raw eggs are featured, and do not have a happy ending.
Is Dirty Corset Restoration Comedy, re-imagined? Audiences will find it a matter of personal taste — still a new idea in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Dirty Corset tells the disjointed, and rather hard to follow, tale of a group of itinerant, flea ridden actors trying their luck in the indifferent North. Aptly named Mary Moralless, Isabinda McLovealot and Neil Hasbeen, Coldwell, Darke and Scott switch between playing their roles on stage, playing the actors off it, and sometimes their modern selves, with bewildering speed. This doesn’t give the audience a lot of time to identify with any of these switcheroos, or even care. Bang Average have done some research, and some of the details of the seventeenth century actors’ lives are undoubtably accurate. But for the most part, Dirty Corset chooses to ignore the fact that Restoration Comedy was an elegant style of theatre — a new theatre for its times, of Reason and Wit, despite its bawdiness.
Ultimately, Dirty Corset is an exercise in acting of the kind that feels like one long improvisation. The Company acknowledges as much in their programme notes. As such, it works quite well. It shows off the actors’ athleticism and versatility to great effect. But the script is deconstructed (much like the costumes) in a way that doesn’t leave much room to focus on anything else but the acting. Dirty Corset is the kind of show that will appeal to festivals, and it is a great showcase for energetic young actors. But for audiences who like a good script as well as good acting and solid production values — this offering by Bang Average is all about the underwear, and may feel a little underdressed.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Hannah Sorrell
Pleasance Theatre until 24th April
Previously reviewed at this venue: