The story of this woman alone in her bathroom came from a process of physical discovery in the rehearsal room inspired by the way we can individually test we are alive, from the bodies response to touch to medical check ups. From a series of repeated movements a narrative began to emerge and turned into the starting point of the show. As I physical theatre practitioner my instinct when devising material is to start from movement as the first layer, then add narrative/text/objects as further layers.
I found that when I allowed myself to move freely, to find physical sequences and text that come to mind instantly without challenge, what is presented in an amalgamation of influence from my direct environment, my outside world with all its people, problems and politics and my current emotional and mental state. As an artist I believe it is my job to channel these three elements to create performance work which is relevant to an audience whilst telling a story which contains my individual truth. This is not to say that Sanitise is auto-biographical, but it has grown from personal experiences, the experiences of other people I've met along the way and the political and socio landscape I have become an artist in.
What continued to interest me after the first showing is questioning why this woman did not have the confidence to be sexually assertive. I think that partly the answer to this question lies within how woman are often perceived in British society, as part of a binary between squeaky clean or sexually promiscuous and therefore dirty. ‘A lady in the sheets, a whore between the sheets’.
In the most recent development of Sanitise, the image of mould within an otherwise perfectly clean bathroom represents human sexuality with all of its sweat, grunting and squelching; desirable to a person who is attracted to you, repulsive to someone who is not. This mould is what she is afraid to show the object of her affections, John, for fear that she will be judged or misunderstood. Instead she tries to adopt a sexuality which the media sells us as being an acceptable way of behaving in the bedroom. She buys the objects that she thinks will make her ‘sexy’, she presents her body in way that she has learned that ‘all men want’. Of course she inevitably fails as her true desires are crushed under the weight of sellable sex, sex as a commodity, capitalist sex.
This theme has continued to run through the different incarnations of Sanitise over the past couple of years. In 2013 I asked director Caitlin Skinner to join me in bringing Sanitise to full production. Caitlin is a wonderful director with whom I have had many feminist debates (in fact, we went to Feminist Summer School together), I knew she would be the perfect collaborator. We have worked together on a few projects now, including co-founding collaborative theatre project Scrapyard, we have developed a strong working relationship in the rehearsal room and have definitely got rid of any inhibitions of talking about bumping uglies! Since Caitlin has been on board Sanitise has had three work-in-progress showings at Anatomy Night at Edinburgh’s Summerhall, The Arches Scratch Night in Glasgow and finally an FST facilitated critical response session at the Lyceum, Edinburgh. These three showings have allowed us to explore what is clean and what is dirty, literally and metaphorically, in front of an audience and gather feedback from their responses, an essential part of the process. Sanitise is non-verbal and pretty abstract at times so it is important that the audience can follow what is happening on stage; the opportunity to try out material was hugely beneficial. What is cohesive and meaningful to Caitlin and I may not be so to an audience, we learned this the hard way!
And now it is time to finish the show. I am so excited to gather together everything we have learned on this journey to produce Sanitise in its entirety. We have recruited a fantastic team to help us achieve this who have already brought lots of exiting ideas to the table. We’ve dance numbers, animated artworks and a magical set to play with where a bathroom becomes a hiding place for secret fantasies. Rehearsals start on 27th June and I can’t wait to get stuck in. I’ll keep you updated on how we get on.
Melanie - Performer/ Co-creator