Beauty is Pain @ Wickham Theatre ★★★

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By Cameron Henderson, second year English

Cameron Henderson reviews Beauty is Pain, a verbatim performance art piece that focuses on the social and political ramifications of Donald Trump’s endorsement of the Miss USA Beaty pageants as well as his outspoken treatment of women in the mainstream media.

Drawing upon the context of numerous accusations of sexual harassment directed towards Donald Trump since the 1980’s, notably from Miss USA contestants during the time in which he owned the franchise, Beauty is Pain recreates the scene of a beauty pageant. Hosted by the ostensibly charming Matthew (Justin Campbell), and complete with a big screen, the piece places the audience in the position of spectator in a live TV show.

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Interact Festival / Maddy Cross

Through use of prompted applause and superficial character descriptions --‘I’ve wanted this since I was a little girl’-- the audience is immediately struck by the disjuncture between how one may be expected to act at such an event and how one actually feels. As the play develops, this bitter irony, although seemingly farcical, descends into something far more sinister, through which the cast conveys a powerful feminist message of solidarity in the face of such adversity.

"one could feel the majority of the audience physically recoil at this point"

Credit must be given to all of the actors who each maintained a convincing regional US accent throughout. In addition, attention should be drawn to the innovative use of technology and staging under Pippa Adamthwaite-Cook’s directorship.

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Interact Festival / Maddy Cross

The use of the big screen was effective in immediately constructing the setting of a live TV show; meanwhile, use of voiceover to relay Trump’s own words directed towards women conveyed a powerful messaged of the pervasiveness of such remarks. In fact, one could feel the majority of the audience physically recoil at this point.

"serving up a damning indictment of the patriarchal power structures that continue to ossify and thus delimit the social standing of women in our society"

The overall production hit home with its eerie exposé of the treatment of contestants at the Miss America pageant through which it exposed the vulnerability of the contestants’ position. That being said, it would have been nice to witness more of these parts’ character development. Regardless, the climax of this performance is superb, offering an opening out from the setting of a pageant to the macrocosm of the societal position of women across the globe.

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Interact Festival / Maddy Cross

While serving up a damning indictment of the patriarchal power structures that continue to ossify and thus delimit the social standing of women in our society, Beauty is Pain offers the glimmers of hope on the horizon, a future in which ‘Me too’ is no longer necessary, and one that will be achieved through continued female solidarity.

Feature image: Unsplash / Vonecia Carswell


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