Unchained and Unflinching: Bitch on Heat

5 stars

In an all-guns blazing, brute force demolition of sexual politics, a phenomenal performance from Leah Shelton is ably supported by spectacular stagecraft.

Filled with Shelton’s trademark blend of dark humour, anti-burlesque, and performance theatre, Bitch on Heat is a show that will leave you reeling from sensory overload.

Image courtesy of Sarah Walker

Image courtesy of Sarah Walker

We open with a grotesque parody of the constructs of female sexuality, in a wholly successful effort to break them down and rebuild them. Over the course of the show, we move from the restrictive classification of women as purely sexual objects, to something to be consumed, to something to be controlled.

In this exquisitely crafted work, Shelton channels these and other problematic narratives and unflinchingly shows them for what they are. We sit in awe of this compelling and evocative piece she has created, clapping and cheering in joy as the artist tears these constructs apart.

The majority of the show features lip-synced voice-over until, in a moment that dramatically redirects the narrative, we hear Shelton’s actual voice silencing the patriarchal monologue that has dictated how women are viewed and treated for far too long.

Image courtesy of Sarah Walker

Image courtesy of Sarah Walker

Ambitiously elaborate set and costume design delivers everything one could hope for in this powerful piece of performance art. The clearly inhibiting costume that sets the scene for much of the opening part of the show combines with the incredible skill of the performer to create a believably inhuman visage. Her controlled movement and astounding character work, going from nymph to goblin with unsettling ease, is a highlight.

Bitch on Heat doesn’t indulge the role of the oppressed female, even when Shelton is depicting an explicitly dominated archetype. Throughout the performance, there’s a strong, fierce, and unapologetic woman underneath the weight of patriarchal society, breaking out to voice a narrative of her own.

Structured to be one exhilarating extended scene, the show has Shelton on stage from the moment the audience is seated until the end of the performance. Out of sight, though still in the room, only briefly as she seamlessly transitions between characters, the unimpeded flow of the work serves to accelerate the pace and create a sense of relentlessness.

In only an hour, Shelton sums up, deconstructs and opposes the long term societal construction of the woman as a being bound to serve the patriarchy at all costs.

Tickets available from the FRINGE WORLD website.