Buttons As You’ve Never Seen Them Before

STITCH IT! by Nelly Lewis, Rialto Theatre Brighton, Tuesday 29th November 8pm.

Stitch it! is a strongly visual solo performance that takes the audience on a woman’s journey from childhood to childbirth, ageing and death solely through the language of the body.

One woman, a fantastically versatile dress, a hanging sewing box and a lot of buttons were the architecture of a world of transitions played out through mime and butoh style dance theatre. Butoh is a Japanese dance / theatrical form that grew out of WWII as an opposition to classical codified dance forms and to celebrate the grotesque we experience everyday. Butoh’s deliberately slow pace, sustained physical movement and use of striking poses, allows the audience space to formulate their own interpretations of the meanings onstage. This production went most of the way to achieving this, which is a tricky thing to pull off.

Nelly Lewis subtly led us through the transitions between life phases with enough moments of clarity that we were not lost. The expected archetypes of womanhood (maiden, mother and crone) were recognizable, if not a little obvious at times. The customary upheaval from childhood to young adult hood was expressed as being lost at sea in a life raft made from the performer’s dress, while tangled elastic string drawn from the navel became the widow’s peak of old age (cleverly representing declining fertility through adulthood to old age).

The inventive use of a small number of props was impressive throughout. Never has a button been more things – foetus, nose, eyes, nipple, symbol of abandon, symbol of something precious and forgotten. I would be interested to know how the collaboration with costume designer, Yasmin Wollek, developed as the manipulation and reconfiguration of the dress was ingenious and inseparable from the action.

The emotional journey overall was gentle with some surprises, including confusion, desperation and hysteria. One sequence stays with me – that of the tragically comic button-clown mother, slipping between hysterical laughter and despair, expressing the joy of motherhood and despair of exhaustion and not knowing the answers in a way that I felt I related to even though I am not a mother.

In such a deliberately paced and stripped back world, fleeting moments of superfluous action were distracting and interrupted the delicate interpretations I had been overlaying onto the action. I would like to see certain elements stripped back further and the whole thing slowed down to make it an entirely captivating work.

The show is well suited to an intimate fringe festival atmosphere, so I would recommend you see it if its on during Brighton Festival Fringe in May 2017. Worth a watch if you want to see something a bit different without being disappointed.

Elise Phillips