Review: Liz Aggiss - Slap and Tickle - The Place

Performance: 17 & 18 June 2016
Reviewed by Sarah Kent - Wednesday 22 June 2016

Liz Aggiss 'Slap and Tickle' Photo: Joe Murray

Performance reviewed: 17 June

Wearing a voluminous gold dress and dangling a rag doll, Liz Aggiss stands tall. She is an imposing presence, but her stature is not just a matter of physique; its a challenge, a statement that she is in command and you’d better believe it, because she is about to mess with your head. “Hello Everybody. Are you sitting comfortably?”, she enquires seductively. “Well, I’ll soon change that.”

What follows is a darkly comic exploration of our preconceptions about what it means to be female. Aggiss rummages in the bin bag of invidious nonsense perpetrated to limit the aspirations of young girls and suppress any sign of spirited independence. She pulls out plum after plum; and in case this isn’t rich enough territory, there’s the added subtext of who should occupy centre stage and why older women are either invisible, or are to be pitied and patronised.

She begins with childhood. “Are there any little girls in the house… any angels, poppets or princesses? Are there any cry babies, scaredy cats or tell-tale tits? Lifting her dress over her head to reveal voluminous gold knickers, Aggiss moves like a jerky toy, as if a puppet master is haphazardly pulling the strings of some abject plaything.

As Doris Day sings “Que sera, sera,” she asks “Will I be happy …. or will I always be randy, always on heat… looking for meat? Will I be beaten, shoved in a dustbin, raped and abused?” The answer? “Wash out your mouth, you silly old moooo.” But there’s always time for some fun and the performance is peppered with the false jollity of invitations like: “Come on everybody; cheer up and let’s have a party.”

A series of angular moves with a staccato beat create the impression that Aggiss is dancing under strobe lighting – a stop-start situation in which each burst of energy is instantly reigned in and curtailed. And as the darkly demented scene unfolds, childhood begins to feel like a mad house governed by ill-will, where every girl is assaulted by a poisonous mix of prejudice and misinformation.

The performance is in three acts punctuated by games, and it’s time for Listen with Mother and Pass the Parcel. When the music stops, the voice of Emma Kilbey urges the recipient of each parcel to “rip it, slash it, break it” and reveal the contents – a yellow duster printed with a cartoon cock and balls.

Aggiss enters wearing a demure black dress with a white collar, which makes her dysfunctional attempts at conformity even more poignant. She pulls clump after clump of stuffing from her bras and, after complaining about a need for change, releases a flood of coins from her knickers.

Leakage is a recurring theme. “Are there any wet women … broken women in the house? Are there any yummy mummies … leaking, dripping, yummy mummies ? Are there any pishy old ladies with collapsed floors ?” she asks, waving a watering can. “Wee wee motherfucker; don’t cough motherfucker; wee wee, don’t mind me, all the way home.”

In the next interlude, we are showered with phallic balloons and encouraged to “rub it, squeeze it, wack it, burst it, bite it.” Much hilarity ensues, but then Aggiss re-appears dressed in red and clutching a hapless doll by the neck. The spooky ventriloquism that follows is a high point of the show. “What are you frightened of ?” she asks the doll and, through gritted teeth replies: “I’m frightened that you’re going to put words into my mouth…. I’m frightened that you’re going to tell me what to do…. I’m frightened that you’re going to leave me.” This brilliant device allows her to reveal her worst fears – the ones that enslave us and keep us in check – while constantly switching roles between mother and child, man and woman, persecutor and victim.

Slap and Tickle ends with a striptease; the red dress comes off, followed by the gold gloves, sparkly bodice and frilly knickers. The appearance of a tiny white apron implies modesty, but a blond horse tail swishing across bare buttocks suggests something saucy, if a bit skanky. Despite a girl’s best efforts to act demure and talk proper, it seems that sleaze will always surface; the body and its appetites will let her down. “Anyone fancy a bit of slap and tickle,” asks Liz Aggiss with her trade-mark mix of wickedness and innocence: “or just a happy ending?”

Slap and Tickle uses similar devices to her previous show, The English Channel – dramatic clothing, plenty of props, angular movements and a rapid-fire monologue accompanied by multiple voices – but it is more personal, more pertinent and far more potent.

The scurrilous madness of this gallop through life, love and womanhood appears gleefully chaotic when, in fact, it is perfectly honed to leaven harsh reality with desperate hilarity: “Oh come on everybody, cheer up and lets have a party.”

Tour dates & venues:

Best known as an art critic, Sarah Kent began writing about dance for The Arts Desk in 2012, only stopping when she was invited to serve on the dance panel of the Olivier Awards. A keen dancer herself, she brings a fresh perspective to the role of commentator.

Photo: Joe Murray

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