Shibari is not a word that many will have seen or heard before. I confess I'd neglected to carry out research before attending the show, concerned about what an innocent Google might dredge up on my work computer. It refers to the erotic art of Japanese rope bondage, a practice in which participants are tied with ropes of hemp or jute to create intricate patterns and body positions, blurring the lines between performance and BDSM, between the artistic and the pornographic. That grey area is exactly what Everything I See I Swallow seeks to explore, through a fusion of shibari, drama and aerial acrobatics that challenges the preconceptions of the audience.
Maisy Taylor plays Olivia, a teenager who has attracted a sizeable following on Instagram by posting photos of herself practicing shibari. Her mother (Tamsin Shasha), an art curator who has tried to raise Olivia as a feminist, is horrified to find out about her daughter's activities on social media. It seems at first that the two are poles apart. On the one hand, shibari has enabled Olivia to finally become comfortable with her own image, after years of struggling to reconcile her inner and outer selves. Yet she is stung by her mother's angry protestations: that she is objectifying herself, submitting her semi-naked body to the male gaze, a bound captive of the patriarchal order. The play revolves around that persistent question: how can something that is so empowering to one woman seem so degrading to another?
The piece is part-historical commentary on the evolution of the feminist movement, part-intimate drama about a mother and daughter rediscovering an 'umbilical' emotional connection. Combined with the narrative, the aerial acrobatics from both performers is spellbinding, as they yo-yo down ropes in a way that seems to bend the laws of physics. The most spectacular scenes are those in which the two appear together: earlier on, fraught peace talks are played out while both performers are suspended from the ceiling; later, as Olivia and her mother grow closer, they and their ropes intertwine. All the while their shadows are flitting and darting on the screen behind them, adding to the show’s mesmeric quality.
But Shasha and Taylor are as good on the ground as they are in the air: heated mother-daughter exchanges bristle with caustic humour, while one surreal episode in an M&S changing room is utterly hysterical. It is a short piece, at only one hour, but it provokes thought and debate: the discussions I have had with others about the show easily eclipse its brief runtime. Everything I See I Swallow is unique, salient and ultimately uplifting, and all credit to the sharp-eyed Cornerstone team for booking a show that is surely bound for a bright future.