Monday 13 May 2019

Bitch On Heat review

Bitch on Heat is the story of Pandora, the first woman on Earth. It begins with an over-the-top electrifying opening as a figure fights to be unleashed to the world, paired with booming dramatic music and lightning visual effects. It sets the tone for Leah Shelton’s high camp performance art exploration of women, sexuality and gender through a series of interconnected vignettes that reinforces the creative genius that she possesses.

Shelton appears in a full body rubber sex doll costume that leaves you feeling disquieted at the images it stirs up. While the big open mouth and blonde wig allude to space adventurer Barbarella, your mind can’t stop from visualising the murderous Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. It’s a fitting reminder to the intention of the work in highlighting women's sexuality but also the violence they endure in its various forms. Shelton fleshes out these ideas through gloriously camp humour, including one moment where that of being a good woman is linked to being a good dog with some perfectly timed and highly expressive panting.

Shelton is in absolute control of the material the entire time and her changes in costumes and characters are seamless, taking place on stage before you even realise that it’s happening. The show is full of surprises as you never know where Shelton is going to go next and the route she is going to take. Ursula Martinez’s masterful direction guarantees that every aspect is outrageous and extravagant but never excessive or without purpose. Bitch on Heat is a strong example of design elements coming together to create a wholly supported vision with Kenneth Lyons’ sound as essential to the show as Shelton’s performance, especially with the incredible opening scene and Jason Glenwright’s constantly active lighting intelligently conveying the varying moods and themes presented.

The set design consists of four Greek columns surrounding Shelton as she initially stands on a white circular mound. This aesthetic repeatedly alerts the audience that these behaviours and attitudes towards women - and women fighting back - have been occurring throughout history. Designed by Shelton, the pillars and mound cleverly house several prop pieces inside them, leaving the audience guessing as to what she is going to pull out from them. The show is littered with pop culture references that cover a range of eras, including Tom Cruise’s “Respect the Cock, Tame the Cunt” scene from the 1999 film Magnolia and Martha Wainwright’s 2005 epic song “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” to which Shelton continues to excel with her brilliant lip-syncing. 

Bitch on Heat may claim to be story of the first woman on Earth, but it is also the story of every woman on Earth. While the show, particularly the ending, is powerfully laced with anger and frustration, Shelton ensures the laughs and enjoyment are just as prevalent, making for a supremely memorable production on the sexualisation of the female body. The bitch may be on heat, but Leah Shelton is on bloody fire. 

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Season: Until 19 May | Tues - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm 
Tickets: $47.50Full | $39.50 Conc | $32.50 Students/Under 30 
Bookings: Theatre Works

Photo Credit: FenLan Chuang

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