‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ is a dark comedy about the struggle between inner desire and outer perfection under the gaze of the female character. Based on Yukio Mishima’s “The University of Chastity”, she contrasts the socialised image of gender with the absurd but real human need: appetite. She explores the boundaries of women’s behaviour in the public space. The co-creators come from three countries – England, India and Taiwan – and share their experiences across cultures to weave a common cross-cultural physical vocabulary, with performances ranging from dance, rituals, performance art and physical theatre to disrupt aesthetic norms and liberate repressed and raging desires.
餐桌上的少女們，是誰？ ｜專訪跨文化表演藝術團體｜樣樣劇團 SameSame Collective
There are four girls at the table: Yang Tzu-Ying (Taiwan), Huang Yi-Ting (Taiwan), Emma Brand (UK), and Karen D’Mello (India). The quartet make up the directors and performers of the experimental play ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ and are founding members of Same Same Collective. They are also Masters coursemates at Goldsmiths and close friends.
‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ is a devised theatre piece, a method of theatre-making in which the play originates from collaborative and improvisatory work by the performers. The ensemble’s generative collaboration is the play itself. While already a common device in modern British theatre, the members of Same Same Collective found the project challenging, with D’Mello stating ‘When I first premiered the play at school, I was terrified until the show started. I couldn’t predict what kind of performance I will bring to my audience.’
The final play has no script, no lines, no sound effects, and the stage is simply a dining table. Yet, the actors unravel a complete and balanced performance on stage. The practice of a Dramaturge isn’t simply devising theatrical compositions, they also bring creative perspectives to the process of composition. The production is not a clear technical step but an ongoing process of defining the best performance before it hits the stage.
Literally, at the last minute, we don’t know what we haveKaren D’mello
we don’t know what we are doing as what it will become
Everything is emerging as we were making it
It’s exhilarating, but it’s terrifying as well, and I never work like that.
The four artists are challenged to think in new ways. They show their vulnerability as they grow up, trying to conform to the adults who demand that they be as elegant, demure, lovely, and youthful as a girl should be. The red costumes with disproportionately large bow ties on the four mature women are a satire on the fear of maturity that women claim to be eighteen years old forever. The costume design was kept in house, the work of the grandmother of member Yang Tzu-Ying.
Adults expect their daughters to be fairy tale princesses; society expects women to be eternally innocent and naive. Emma shares that by presenting the female body as being for the audience to consume, they explore how a woman’s sense of self is akin to fresh fruit on the table, beautiful and defenceless against devourment by the outside world. On the stage in London, the costumes are a slightly odd red and floral, suggesting that the seemingly exaggerated content of the show is not far from reality, especially in the second half of the performance when the young girls become more and more liberated in their eat. The performers untie the elastic bands of their dresses, symbolising that desire, long suppressed, can finally be fulfilled to its extent.
Women bodiesEmma Brand
being commodified were to be consumed by the audiences
just as much as fruits.
So what is “Drop Dead Gorgeous”? As the audience enters, they are greeted by a white table filled with fruit, and at once, the music starts to play. The girls emerge from under the tablecloths, sometimes looking in the mirror, dancing, picking up the most miniature fruit and eating it symbolically, as if maintaining a minimum of modesty. As time progresses, the girl’s attitude towards the fruit gradually changes to enjoyment, obsession, competition and unrestrained ‘eating’, as if the previous reserve was the product of a forced tolerance. The white tablecloths are splattered with fruit juices, just like the dresses. The show comes to an end as the girls are exhausted from defending and fighting for their food.
Yiting shared how the members found common ground in their different cultural backgrounds, which coincidentally is the meaning of the company’s name. One audience at the Taipei venue associated the play with a symbolic power struggle. The linear development of a fruit scramble ends in a tragic defeat for both. Because the word ‘beauty’ is defined by society, they reflect this stereotypical ‘beauty’ on stage, the feminine body movements, dresses, and fruits convey female beauty as Greek statues or goods to be presented and consumed by the audience.
In addition to the usual audio-visual experience, the smell of the venue enhances the spectacle. The table is full of fruit, and as the girls munch on it, the ‘aroma’ conveys a sense of hunger and dissatisfaction to audiences. The decision for using fruit was not arbitrary, the performers considered cakes or hiding a microwave under the table but finally chose fruit because of its cross-cultural language, aroma, and colour, which was perfect for the performance. The performance uses fruit to stimulate desire.
The four ensemble members protest against the social status quo through their interpretation; the performers immersed in it resonate with the audience, who are invited to feel the injustice of our society. This work of communication, extraction, compromise and transformation is an expression of current issues. While the audience may be unaccustomed to the innovative form of performance, the message behind ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous,’ could be universally shared.
The year 2021 is a tumultuous year for theatre worldwide, with all theatre companies facing enormous challenges. When it comes to the future, the newly born Same Same Collective faces the challenges of three-time differences and the possibility of a physical theatre festival and artistic residency with no end in sight. With the pandemic fuelling the digitalisation of theatre, it has become an issue for all those working in the field, with companies such as The Same Same Collective, who focus on live physical performance, taking on the challenge of performing in the VR Vault London Theatre Festival.
The plan is still to bring members back together to create in-person shows. Still, there are also discussions about the possibility of online performances. The Same Same collective have yet to create an online version of ‘Drop dead gorgeous’ but hopes to do so after overcoming the international and technical difficulties. ‘With all the preparation and thought we could muster, it will be a very different experience. We hope that after overcoming this, we can continue to bring you new and exciting performances in the future, despite the distance.’
Same Same Collective Introduction
Same Same is an international, interdisciplinary collective that formed as part of the Goldsmiths Performance Making Masters. We are a collaborative group dedicated to making performances that speak across cultural divides. ‘Drop dead gorgeous’ is the first show we devised together, though we have all created professionally as individuals.