Frankie Thompson & Liv Ello @ Pleasance Courtyard

Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello's new collaboration is a complex, immersive collage of sight and sound

Review by Emma Sullivan | 11 Aug 2023
  • Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello

Saturated in spectacle – it’s the contemporary condition, and a state that Body Show replicates, with an immersive collage of sight and sound that bombards us with cultural prescriptions about gender, bodies and food. Threaded throughout are glimpses of the personal stories of the two performers, Thompson and Ello, partners in both life and work, and their struggles with body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria.

The feels are apocalyptic Barbie (Thompson as Barbie, Ello as Ken) – or Barbenheimer even, with a suggestion in there about a link between male inadequacy and the compulsion to build bombs. There’s a lot going on: songs that ratchet through body and brain, footage that ranges from the kitsch to the jaw-dropping (Terry Wogan being devastatingly crass about anorexia, weight shaming on The X Factor) – with the pair miming skilfully to the audio and visual segments. There’s humour in the juxtapositions: a Last Supper tableau with audio from Come Dine with Me, which opens up a whole new passive aggressive angle to Jesus’ relationships with his disciples (‘Did you bake the bread yourself?’).

Brief glimpses of Thompson and Ello’s own personal stories emerge: early shame at a children’s party, the dissociation brought on by puberty, home videos to counter the mainstream images. The show manages the autobiographical charge well: our hovering desire for and anxiety about revelation is deftly handled – even in the quietest, most raw part of the show, both performers maintain a certain reserve.

There is plenty of humour, but perhaps the enduring mood here is one of grief. Back in their boxes, absurdly confined to their gender roles as the world burns, Barbie and Ken speak sadly of the limits of love. The palpable yearning in Ello’s line about melting and at last becoming truly fluid captures the sadness at the heart of this complex and sometimes confounding show.

Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello: Body Show, Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath), until 27 Aug (not 14), £12-14