The Wild Flesh at Tristan Bates Theatre
Combining a critique of beauty obsession with a story about a cult, The Wild Flesh is an unusual and refreshing take on the consequences of online abuse and an unhealthy dosage of body perfectionism. While the script occasionally suffers from some clunky dialogue, a potent quintet of actors and the strong skills of director Tashan Gilardi make it an enjoyable experience all round; this is definitely a competent and interesting take on extreme beauty standards.
The plot involves YouTuber Lyra (Hayley May Muirhead), who suffers online abuse after offering some less than sound life advice to her generally young audience. After a six-month hiatus, she returns having been “enlightened” with a vision of obtaining perfection in beauty through pain and absolute dedication. Her newly born cult quickly suffers from some internal problems, as her dedicated followers Mary (Sommy Echezona), Gemma (Caitlin Goman) and Alice (Jordan Noel) fight for their queen’s blessing, while the Reporter (Izzy Pilkington) infiltrates the sect to find a story to write about.
The subtle and appropriate set and costume design by J William Davis and the atmospheric lighting and sound design by Ally Brett do a good job of delivering the perfect mood for this somewhat bizarre setting; throughout the entire runtime, the audience can see a screen in the background portraying Lyra’s intimidating gaze, only occasionally to be interrupted by her announcements to her followers in a pseudo-Orwellian style. The only props on stage are – of course – computers and smartphones, which the cult members use to post their updates on social media.
The writing, too, works for the most part, with a good pacing and general build-up, even if there isn’t much character development. However, the dialogue sometimes feels a bit clumsy and unreal – in isolated incidences to such an extent that one can’t help but feel the play lose its grip on its onlookers. The show is largely salvaged, however, by the strong cast of enthusiastic personalities who all manage to deliver the lines perfectly, no matter how well they are written.
While The Wild Flesh may not be the most original take on its themes, it does deliver its exploration in a fascinating way, making us question the effect of social media on our lives, the absurd and threatening nature of cults and the dangers of beauty standards when taken to the extreme.
The Wild Flesh is at Tristan Bates Theatre from 14th January until 18th January 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.