Protein: Dear Body @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London

cast list
Sally Marie, David Lloyd, Vicki Manderson, Nuno Silva, Michael Spenceley, Sarah Storer

conceived and directed by
Luca Silvestrini
Building on themes explored in their earlier short work B for Body, Protein’s Dear Body is a satirical examination of the modern obsession with health and appearance.

Steering clear of anything too abstract, the piece is set in a very recognisable place a spa – and the set features a row of lockers and a massage table.

The endearing performer Sally Marie plays the timid new arrival with a dinky wheeled suitcase and a pair of unflattering granny knickers.

She is prodded and pummelled by various toned and honed types in towelling robes. The flesh of her thighs and stomach is pinched and kneaded, assessed and found wanting.
Aiming its sights on the diet industry, cosmetic surgery and self-improvement, Luca Silvestrini’s production is often very funny. Dancers bounce around the stage on those giant rubber exercise balls and an alphabetical trawl through our modern obsession with food is presented in video montage form, projected onto the back wall (F is represented by a big fry up while P is for pornographic pampering.).

Silvestrini is skilled at blending dance with genuine comedy, the vain, strutting, slightly absurd, gym-buff men bring to mind Zoolander and there is a splash of Carry On in those sequences with the exercise balls. Local performers are occasionally paraded on as other willing victims of the zealous instructors.

Amid these more broadly comic sequences there are more unsettling images. Marie is covered in plastic sheeting and backlit, her silhouetted form proving quite moving; later a projected image of her body is drawn over with surgical marker pen until she entirely obliterated by ink.

After a brief burst of topless ballet, Silvestrini shows how the body can sometimes rebel, how it can betray, with Sarah Storey’s tanned, taut aerobics mistress jerking and spasming around the stage before collapsing to the ground.

Though Dear Body seems to lose confidence and clarity towards the end of its 70 minutes, it regains them in the concluding moments as Marie totters on stage sheathed in bandages having subjected herself to all manner of extreme procedures.

Entertaining as it often is, the piece is saying little that is new. Several of Neil LaBute’s recent plays (Fat Pig, reasons to be pretty) have tackled body image our obsession with our exteriors – and Armando Iannucci’s operetta Skin Deep covered similar ground. Dear Body presents the symptoms without digging deeper to the root of the infection or trying to understand why we are increasingly fascinated with often unattainable and unrealistic physical perfection.

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