Mother love and a tutor called Karn – Lucy Saunders asked me some questions about creating the show ‘Girl In Suitcase’

The show is very autobiographical, and while it is not especially about my Mother being from a different time with different expectations, I guess it also is. It is about a cross-generational clash, and the mending of this. It is about a character with little or negative outlook in life, made worse by her disability. It is about the parallels in the daughter’s life, and how through the Mother’s need, their relationship is softened and made closer. The Mother is approaching death, and this throws a bold new light on their lives.

Another inspiration is life modelling, and a particular tutor I worked with at Heatherleys back at the beginning of ’09. She walked with a stick and was totally eccentric. Visually she was striking, and her character had presence. She slightly resembled my Mother as she was over 10 years ago walking with a stick. As I modelled and listened to her meanderings to the class, I conjured up a fictional character of her, an evil version who continually shifts between trying to be sinisterly kind to the model (who may also be a trafficked woman) and being downright nasty and torturing. I was playing with the idea of being a model and feeling trapped in one’s role, particularly as a woman. Unable to move and when you might have an issue with your predicament, often you silence it under the guise of thinking it through more thoroughly just to be sure you really do have a problem before you tell anyone about it.

There was a link with women in the sex industry where I also used to work, and how many of them feel trapped. The play only touches on that aspect, but for me it’s a big link with making a living out of my body’s natural propensity to be attractive to men. I may be a good model also, but being honest and what I’ve learnt from doing SB, many artists are not very kind, they want slim, pretty women, not too old, and if not someone more unusual. I sent an older friend who has done SB to cover me at the Mall one week, and a female artist said after she’d modelled, that she may not be good looking, but at least she could hold the pose. I suppose that was meant to be an honest compliment.

A specific inspiration was having to take over caring for my Mum when Dad was incapacitated for a while. It shocked the hell out of me, what was involved and how much of the carer’s life it takes up, and how little I felt I could give, given that my Mum had never shown me love when I was young. It wasn’t until she nearly died under a year before this time of caring for her, that she started to tell us, her family, that she loves us and is sorry about not being kinder before. Now she tells me every time I see her, it’s the first thing she says.

Another inspiration was modelling for London Drawing at Battersea Arts Centre when I had to be Emmeline Pankhurst hacking her own clothes off in a minor hysterical fit! It was so performative and an interesting way to hi-light the significance of clothes to us as humans. Nudity is foregrounded by the removal of clothes.

I would have used more physical theatre if working with Szilvi, but with Jaki, the possibility of performing the script about Mum became obvious and she is a trained actress, not so much physical theatre performer. There are still elements of physical work in the more surreal/dream scene sequence, as in a few movements and gestures we are hinting at the emotional and psychological development of a character over the course of 20 years of her life say. It becomes symbolic and is a visual metaphor. I don’t want to spoon feed the audience!

The show could indeed be performed by someone else if they so wanted, and it is mostly quite straight forward and text-based. The part where I life model and instigate the audience to draw could be made individual to whoever was doing it, as I intend to partly adlib that part according to the audience response.

The themes are personal and female emancipation, also caring for the sick and elderly, mother/daughter relationships, and our relationship with our bodies. Also as you say how the onset of impending death may alter our fundamental view of life and throw everything into a sharp focus.

Caring for the elderly is poignant with our aging population.

Embracing our nudity is quite a popular theme at least in the West currently, and continues to shake dominant cultural beliefs. Talking to Anita the other day who was brought up Muslim in Malaysia illuminated that cross-cultural realm of women – from places where showing much skin is punishable or at least frowned upon – who then lead a Western life and may move between worlds. The world is changing fast and even her friends in Malaysia who cannot express themselves fully in their life in public, do so more and more online.

The show is particularly about my experience of feeling disenchanted with a conventional way of doing things/growing up, so rebelling; and then coming out the other end a bit more grown up. So in that sense it speaks to possibly people like me, who could just be anyone who’s ever been disillusioned (ok let’s keep this broad!) It’s about finding a salvation through some sort of patience and endurance. It’s about a positive outcome of a once negative situation so it’s quite optimistic. It’s about facing death so it’s realistic too, i.e. not just idealistic.

How does my experience translated through art help others connect? Not sure. Mum likes it because she feels represented on stage, but that’s a bit specific; more generally a main character is heavily disabled and faces the possibility of assisted suicide. Just showing some hard stuff, can be a relief to people who live that and could do with not feeling alone. Having said that there’s a lot of humour there, even if dark.

By being naked on stage and juxtaposing that with a clothed character and their interactions, that points up our awkwardness as a society or humanity, with facing ourselves as we nakedly are as humans. Also I start talking directly to the audience (whilst nude), so that’s a bit weird!

As for the place, well the burlesque bar in Stoke Newington is meaningful because it’s through an old contact of my drugged-up sex industry past as she works there. And it’s in an area where lots of that old group of friends live and I once lived. Many of the girls in that group work in burlesque, domination, stripping… So I am revisiting my past with a new edge. The nice thing is this bar is run by women and they are right into promoting female-led performance.

As for Edinburgh, the origin of the contact is through the same group of friends, and the guy I have been introduced to there runs a programme to promote free education. He is quite inspirational, though far too academic for me, but he likes Spirited Bodies as it sort of covers a feminist/evolutionary development angle that he digs but cannot encompass in his own projects… or who knows, maybe he will! So the gig has come about through a desire to promote Spirited Bodies, and the enthusiasm that generates with like-minded, socially conscious (if that’s the word) people.

I sorted out a London show so I could practise on friends and anyone else who comes along.

Not working on any other projects currently. Would like to develop this show after I’ve seen how it works and doesn’t. Show could evolve dramatically according to cast, funding, will…

There will be charcoal, pencils, paper etc and boards for people to draw with at the show.

Published by esther bunting

Performer, artist, writer

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