The Independent on Flesh


Clare Bayley

The Independent, 27 March 1996

Spring has officially begun and, as if to prove the point, all you can see on the alternative theatre circuit is sex. Frantic Assembly’s Flesh is the younger cousin of Nigel Charnock’s Watch My Lips: it starts with a striptease, continues with a lot of choreographed hurling of bodies and is sustained throughout on a suggestively punning, almost poetic text by Spencer Hazel.

Frantic mercifully avoid the worst cliches of a piece about the skin trade (ignore the publicity shots, there’s neither a stiletto heel nor a scrap of black leather in sight). Even where predictable territory is covered – personal ads, phone sex, prostitution – they manage to give it a personal, and so genuinely disquieting slant. Merging truth and fiction, Steven Hoggett describes going not quite all the way with a well-known theatre director in order to get a reference for drama school; Cait Davis tells of turning tricks to finance her theatre training. Are they really any worse than Scott Graham who got his Equity card by prostituting his talent to panto? The effect is heightened by the fresh-faced, girl and boy next-door charm of the four performers. And from here we get to what interests Frantic most: where the selling of bodies for sex and the selling of bodies for entertainment cross over. In these days of funding hardship, plenty of companies are emphasising the provocative nature of their work and the attractiveness of their performers in publicity material. While doing precisely the same thing, Frantic are at least fully conscious and questioning of the whole process. “Buy me, I’ll change your life,” boasts Hoggett in one of the small-ad parodies, but we know that theatre-goers are always secretly hoping to have their lives changed by a performance once they’ve paid for their ticket.

The lighting (Ben Pacey) is appropriately dim and blue while the sound (Andy Cleeton) provides the necessary thrash and grind, with reflective interludes. In the end, Frantic’s best selling point is their commitment to their performance. The choreography is by Christine Devaney of V-TOL, and though it treads a well-worn path, it is executed with some aplomb. Most memorable is the dance performed with their trousers around their ankles without even a stumble. Now that’s entertainment.