REVIEW: The Body Remembers at Battersea Arts Centre

The Body Remembers at Battersea Arts Centre is a must-see piece exploring how trauma lives in the body that will stay with its audience for a long time, writes Sasha Nugara.

The auditorium in Battersea Arts Centre was filled with the smell of lavender oil, a gentle yet perturbing hum and a feeling of expectation.

Heather Agyepong busied herself on the stage rearranging her props as the audience quietly filed in and although the performance had not officially begun, many could not take their eyes off her moving figure as a sense of anticipation resonated from all watchers.

As Agyepong took centre stage to begin her movement, her silhouette filled the wall behind her creating an impressive effect.

The music began to speed up, and her body began to move with it, jerking, twitching and flowing to the beat. Her choice of clothing awarded her shadow with a clean and sharp line that articulated her every movement.

STRIKING: Heather Agyepong creates a silhouette in The Body Remembers. Photo by Myah Jeffers

The soundtrack began to evolve as the voices of Black British women undergoing trauma recovery were heard.

Agyepong would respond to their words with her body, but kept her facial expressions neutral.

This pairing of sound and movement exacerbated the harrowing effect, materialising the women’s feelings of trauma in a way that sent shockwaves through the audience.

The voices divulged stories of fibromyalgia, panic attacks and social discomfort, with one voice pinpointing the start of these feelings to the age of eight years old.

These accounts successfully illustrated the nature of the body as a palimpsest of generational inscription and its ability to remember and never forget, even after the head has already let go.

Inspired by the therapeutic practice of Authentic Movement, Agyepong is The Mover and the audience is The Witness.

Co-created by Imogen Knight and Gail Babb, The Body Remembers was intended to create a space for audience and artist to attend to themselves and each other.

THE MOVER: Among the props arranged in the background are pillows, medical items, Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington and Little Miss hug. Photo by Brian Hartley

Agyepong’s projected messages on the back wall told us to notice our breathing and pay attention to our bodies, in a reminder that the feeling of an individual’s body is what this performance is about.

These reminders created an intimate feeling between The Witness and The Mover as the audience are drawn in to share and accommodate each other’s pain.  

After 45 minutes of captivating movement, Agyepong concludes with a moment of stillness in the centre of the stage.

She takes her time as she slowly transfers her gaze to each member of the audience, finalising the performance’s intimacy with a shared feeling that will follow me for a long time.

No one claps, and no one stands as she leaves the stage. An obnoxious celebration of her performance would feel almost inappropriate after the emotional and harrowing journey The Witnesses have just attended.

People sit for a while, before going up to explore the props she has left out and arranged carefully at the back of the stage.

Heather Agyepong is a visual artist, performer/actor whose art practice is concerned with mental health and wellbeing, invisibility, the diaspora and the archive.

Her must-see work is in Battersea Arts Centre until 4th November before moving to Exeter Phoenix Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres.

The Body Remembers is presented by Fuel, created and performed by Heather Agyepong, co-created by Gail Babb and Imogen Knight and is in Battersea Arts Centre until 4th November before moving to Exeter Phoenix Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres. Tickets can be bought here.

Featured image credit: Myah Jeffers

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