‘Contra’, by Laura Murphy

Review from: Arnolfini, Circus City, Bristol; 18th Oct 2019

Laura Murphy’s Contra is raw and captivating. She looks us straight in the eye and refuses to look away. She starts the show by walking on stage completely naked and remains this way for the majority of the show. Using a vertical rope, direct story-telling, cling film and a touch of irish dancing, she explores some of the ways in which women’s bodies are politicised. This is done in both a wider sense, with reference to Eve in the Garden of Eden and also in a deeply personal way, as she exposes what it is like to occupy her body. The presentation of this show is confronting, as we consider the assumptions that we are projecting onto her body as an audience. We see it framed as a home to inhabit, a powerful tool and a sexualised object and give thought to how these can intersect.

This show was born out of Murphy’s research into whether you can make circus that is socially and critically engaged. This foundation of research is evident and seems to be effective in helping us assess societal structures, our systematic biases, where they come from and how this relates to our perception of our own bodies and the bodies of others. The segments where she demonstrates her incredibly strong and considered movement on the rope allow us space for contemplation between the text, her body offering a visual example.

In some ways, I am disappointed to see that the majority of the audience is women, and it makes me consider how to market socially conscious work to a wider range of people. Whilst it would be great to open up discussion with a larger demographic, I also recognise how empowering it is to create a space to reflect on shared experience. From this collective feeling we can then find ways of moving forward and discover alternative ways of thinking.

Together with director Ursula Martinez, Laura has formatted the show into episodic sections, with humour cutting through the hard-hitting content. There is laughter of recognition, laughter at the absurdities of common culture and laughter induced through nervousness and shock. The confessional style of her delivery means the show has the feel of an intimate exchange. I am left with a sense of relief at these stories being shared and considering our collective responsibility to change them.

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