Review: Liz Aggiss - The English Channel - The Place

Performance: 24 April 2015
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 27 April 2015

Liz Aggiss - The English Channel

Performance reviewed: 24 April 2015

Witty, lewd and unapologetic, performance artist Liz Aggiss’ latest work contains equal measures of gallows humour and English seaside smut. In structure and tone hovering somewhere between a sequin-costumed cabaret performance and a danse macabre, the piece finds Aggiss deciding at the age of sixty-two to please herself and not worry about pleasing others. In the hands of a less interesting artist the results of this decision could have been dull, trite or self-indulgent; instead The English Channel is warmly provocative and highly entertaining.

The piece opens with Aggiss shrouded in a black cape and dancing with a skull perched atop her head, like a scene from a medieval morality play or the Mexican Day of the Dead. The skull, cradled like a baby and placed gently onstage, becomes witness to everything that follows; a reminder to seize the day before we shuffle off this mortal coil and not bother too much about anyone else. Aggiss then proceeds to please herself by removing an increasingly improbable series of objects from her underwear – paper bags, a pointy stick, a Robin Hood costume complete with longbow and a sequinned bikini – each of which frames a new scene danced or sung for the audience’s delight.

The spirits of the past surround the stage, occasionally popping onto the screen in filmed homages; Weimar cabaret artist Claire Waldoff and the inexplicably popular amateur opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins mingle with expressionist dancer Isi te Je and a host of archive clips. These are broken up with live musical numbers in which Aggiss reframes The Dead Kennedys’ best-known song into a jazzy number about rolling into bed too tired to copulate, and another about the pleasures of the female orgasm.

Aggiss’ mission here is not to shock; the world is much too jaded to be much bothered by a woman in her sixties pulling pointy things out of her pants and singing about masturbation. It does, however, serve the valuable function of making the easily-forgotten visible. Age, utillity, gender politics and what Julia Louis-Dreyfuss recently described as ‘fuckability’ are subjects open to discussion and dissection in this joyful floor show, with a side order of spangled flapper dresses and a generous helping of comic relief.

If The English Channel is in part Aggiss’ theatrical confrontation of minor demons from her past (“Sit up straight!” “Have you calmed down yet?”) or fears about the future, there could scarcely be a more uplifting form for this confrontation to take. Ending with a bit of healthy fourth-wall smashing and a jolly Essex knees-up onstage, Aggiss invite the audience to embark with her on her journey of self-pleasure – and demonstrates that pleasing oneself can in fact be enormously fun for everyone else to watch.

Find out more about Liz Aggiss:

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher who writes about dance for many publications, including Londonist, Dancetabs & Arts Professional. Find her on Twitter @lisekit

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