Upon entering Te Auaha’s Tapere Nui space, we’re greeted with blaring rock/punk music, which is a stark contrast to what you see onstage. Curtis (or as we’ll come to know her, the Grotesque Creature) sits alone in a chair, staring at a mirror on a vanity. She remains perfectly rigid, save for a few moments where she writhes slightly in her chair, and we can’t take our eyes off of her. The piece opens with an announcement informing us about the nature of the piece, but also encouraging us to move around, make noises, or even leave for support from the incredible FOH team. During this announcement we see the creature ‘wake up’ (for lack of a better term), her body beginning to writhe more intensely in the chair.
She begins by putting on makeup. Her movements are jarring, her voice is goblin-like, and we’re all mesmerised by the way she moves and takes up space. She talks in this goblin voice throughout, as I write this I can hear the neighbourhood kids playing in the driveway and it’s shockingly similar. There’s a sense of childlike wonder to this creature as she lines up Barbie dolls and performs for them, as if Curtis’ inner child has taken the wheel. I'm reminded of all my days playing with my Bratz dolls and putting all my internalised misogyny into my pretend ‘mummy and daddy’ games. The patriarchy is pernicious.
Concepts of beauty and idealisation are strong throughout, with the physical limitations of her disability getting in the way of achieving this ‘nirvana’ of what it means to be beautiful, something many women/femme presenting people can identify with. I would have liked to see a little more depth in the discussion around beauty, perhaps seeing how others respond to the creature and whether she is embraced or accepted. But when we reach the end, we’re left to wonder whether the creature really did achieve what she wanted, or if she continued trying in vain like the rest of us.
Some moments do feel slightly too long, which I feel could be aided by playing with the pacing to keep us engaged in the slower moments. I also feel that the comedic elements need some development, using Curtis’ extensive physical vocabulary to highlight how silly the performance and rituals of beauty can be.
Lucia Haddad’s lighting design creates an eerie hollow space for the creature to live in, and Fiona Lloyd Harding’s sound design gives the creature an unsettling score to writhe around with that complements the piece excellently. The world of this piece is clear yet abstracted, but it works.
We all have the Grotesque Creature living within us, whether we’re aware of what it looks like or not. LIMITS asks you to confront your own internalised biases against yourself by identifying with this creature and asking, “Well, what are my limits?”
LIMITS had their final performance on Saturday 25th February in Te Auaha’s Tapere Nui space.