Heather Agyepong’s one woman show The Body Remembers, a must-see piece exploring how trauma lives in the body of black women, is decidedly captivating. Even before the performance formally begins, before the audience enter the space, Agyepong is already on the stage. She busies herself as though she is completely on her own, moving around an array of objects, books on women’s mental health, pillows, toys, medicines. A message flashes on the screen telling the audience that they can decide how they want to experience the show. They are encouraged to explore, to move around, sit, stand, they have a choice. This is to be a space for both the audience and the artist and there is an air of expectation.
Although the show has not started the audience watches silently, mesmerised by her movements. A spotlight throws huge shadows on to the screen behind her and a soundtrack that encompasses the space is interspersed by voices.
Agyepong, inspired by the therapeutic practice of Authentic Movement created The Body Remembers with Gail Babb and the choreographer, Imogen Knight. This practice founded in the 20th century includes, among other things, Jungian psychology, and centers on the connection between Agyepong and her audience.
When at last the performance starts, Agyepong becomes the ‘mover’, the body that stretches, curls, unfurls, writhes into many shapes, some sharp, some fluid moving to the beat that we can all hear and the beat within her body. The audience are empathetic, they are witness to her spontaneously reacting to her body as she twists and turns within the space.
Throughout the show the audience are periodically reminded, with texts on the huge screen that fills the back wall, to find themselves even if they are amongst strangers. There are paper and pencils under the chairs so that you could write down then or later, thoughts and feelings. The company also set up ‘Engagement Activities’ in reaction to the themes and facilitated by Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist Dawn Estefan. This is for anyone to access later, if the piece had awakened any physical or mental reaction.
Agyepong is majestic in her portrayal of the pain and anguish that is locked in the body. The lighting throws bold shadows that follow her lead, sometimes focusing on various parts of her body. She moves from controlled to abandoned movements, her breathing laboured. Sometimes, through the unusual and ethereal sound, she yells out our combined pain. The depiction of anguish, fear and banked down anger is intensified by the audio testimonies that focus on black women sharing their stories of panic attacks, fibromyalgia, trauma. These feelings are raised further through the visuals and sound design by Gillian Tan and Donato Wharton.
At the end of the show Agyepong stands still at last, and her shadow merges with others that had been recorded on video, together they emphasize that the trauma she has danced through is one that we all share.
After she leaves, the audience are invited to come on stage and look at the objects. Each group of carefully selected objects tell their own story and put together they become a physical manifestation of the mover-witness experience that all have gone through together, everyone in their own way, led by Agyepong’s magnetic, compelling lead.
For more information on The Body Remembers click here.
For more information on Heather Agyepong click here.
The Body Remembers is showing at Exeter Phoenix Theatre on 9 November 2021.
The Body Remembers is showing at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres 12 – 13 November 2021.
By Anni Domingo
Anni Domingo is a writer, actress, lecturer, director, and MA graduate of Anglia Ruskin Creative Writing. Her poems and short stories have been published in various anthologies.
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