Review: Suspended in Gaffa

Cecily Bateman 27 November 2019

Helena Fox’s one-woman show slides effortlessly from funny to heartbreaking to inspiring; one moment the audience laughs uproariously, only to fall into a hushed silence in the next.

Primarily autobiographical, the show combines poetry (both written by Fox and others), anecdotes and song to tell the story of her life interwoven with the folklore of the Gaelic cailleach, a hag who is continually reborn from the sea.

Following on from the critically-acclaimed Rust, and characteristic of Fox’s shows, Suspended in Gaffa does not shy away from the serious, exploring themes from the Virgin-Whore dichotomy and growing into one’s identity as a lesbian to a raw depiction of mental illness. At every step the audience is invited to question themselves and reflect on their own lives, as well as the story told by Fox.

Image credit: Phoebe Schenk

By combining such topics with references from Radio 4 to Girls Aloud to Kate Bush, Fox prevents the heavy topics from becoming crushing.

The endeavour of performing a one-woman show is no joke, let alone one covering such serious and personal topics, but Fox does not falter or tire throughout and maintains a mesmerising intensity. Though the performance was split into three parts, they were not particularly distinct which let them flow seamlessly into eachother, while perhaps sacrificing the ability to discern a key message from each.

Particularly effective use was made of the space in Corpus, with a minimalist stage set-up focusing the attention on the actress without seeming sparse. A lot of thought was clearly put into lighting by technician Deasil Waltho, with an impressive range for a Corpus one-night stand; the clever use of repeated and fairly quick fades enhanced the climax of the performance without being as overwhelming (or inaccessible) as strobe lighting.

Image credit: Phoebe Schenk

It was also refreshing to see projection – an often-underused feature in Corpus – used to show a sequence of clips of Fox growing up, which was at once moving and hilarious. Credit must be given to Izzy Collins-Cousins and Annika Hi for the careful and precise direction; no movement is wasted but the performance does not feel constrained or lose a certain whimsical quality.  Even if Helena had not finished the show by getting the audience up out of their seats and dancing, I have no doubt that this show would have received a standing ovation.

4.5 stars