Foreign Body

Theatre Review


One in three women in the UK has experienced sexual violence.

That’s one woman out of every three in this country carrying the weight of an assault on her body, her agency and her sexuality. In her debut solo show, Foreign Body, Imogen Butler-Cole brings the weight of sexual assault to life.

Using a combination of verbatim and physical theatre, Foreign Body touches on themes of pain, healing and forgiveness through stories told by sexual assault survivors. A courageous show that explores the complexities surrounding guilt and repression after trauma, this is a piece that plunges its audience into a raptured, almost deafening silence from the outset.

Shining a light on the voicelessness of victims, Butler-Cole plays the stories of assault survivors on speakers overhead, while she crafts a narrative through dance below. Using just one prop (a chair) and a performance area enclosed by mismatched mirrors, she demonstrates how crucial it is that we continue to produce art which elevates the voices of those brave individuals willing to tell their stories.

But this is not only a show about the victim – it's one which aims to advance the discourse surrounding sexual assault more broadly. By including testimony from the perpetrator of her own assault as part of the show’s narrative, Butler-Cole demonstrates how enlightening and valuable it can be to listen carefully to the voices of those committing acts of sexual violence. She argues that it is, after all, only in understanding and re-education (rather than blind condemnation), that we can hope to find progress.

“I share my story in the hope that doing so will help destigmatise the dialogue around sexual assault. Talking about it without shame will shine a light on the topic, perhaps making it harder for people to perpetrate with impunity,” said Butler-Cole of the motivation behind the piece.

Approaching this challenging subject matter with a calm consideration and respect, she succeeds in advancing the discussion, urging her audience to do the same by participating in the panel discussions which customarily follow her performances. Currently showing at London's Vault Festival and set to tour the country after that, Foreign Body is not to be missed.

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