Gymnophoria is the sensation that someone is mentally undressing you.
Sat in perfect stillness, Nesba Crenshaw’s Kate channels a fashion icon as the audience members trickled into The Wardrobe Theatre. Ignoring us all from behind large sunglasses, I felt intimidated- the air was thick with her presence, with the anticipation of her first line.
Told retrospectively, fashion mogul Kate (made up of a few references: Anna Wintour, Tyra Banks) has rekindled her career by hosting a modelling reality show for the last six seasons, and deciding that season seven will be her last, the producers want to make it special, different. Enter Jay (Lolade Rufai) and camera operator DW (Isobella Hubbard), workers on the show who recap season seven for us. With particular attention to one contestant: Grace.
Grace is tall, awkward, and quiet.
Grace is a disaster, picked on.
Grace is getting better.
Grace is too good for this show.
Only ever spoken about, never seen, I knew Grace. I knew how she would make me feel if I saw her, if I stood next to her. She has a space on the stage without ever being there.
Isobella Hubbard’s DW has come from capturing war footage, interviews with drug barons, to this show – an ‘easy’ job. Hyperactive in her gestures, approachable, loveable, DW finds herself falling for the show in every way – having favourites, excited about each episode, judging others’ and her own body by new, harsher standards. How fragile she is comes out as she realises for herself that she is not ‘above’ any of this.
Jay (the model’s “fairy godmother”) is played beautifully by Lolade Rufai- again, someone who has found themselves captivated by beauty, marvelling in how deep beauty can go beyond the skin and bones. And yet, always considering the angle, how best to package the season’s tragedy, how to sell it all.
Nesba Crenshaw is glorious as Kate, punctuating lessons on how to undress and be undressed mentally by your observer or how women can rival the influence of any high-powered man, with a tight “you see?”. You feel the weight of her history with the industry in every line, and she exudes power. That relationship with the audience from the beginning never falters, she is always in control, even in her most vulnerable moments, and I squirm under her appraising eye at times.
Tom Brennan’s work is amazing: each character wavers between an understanding of the superficiality of the industry and the power that it holds. The fashion industry stays a fine line between a mockery and an art form. The writing is incredible: reverent to its influence, its authority- hardly judgemental. The acting is nuanced and assured; each cast member held her own, and without the show ever feeling disjointed or like a fight for the spotlight, every character is well-balanced, multi-dimensional.
This is a powerful, empowering, beautiful piece that builds and ends incredibly. I cannot recommend it enough. Everyone should take the time to take it in, to let it take you. You’ll leave with something, more than just a fancy new word.
Say it with me: gymnophoria.
You can see what else is coming up at The Wardrobe Theatre here