Fierce Festival 2019 / Birmingham, UK / 15 – 20 October

Press Gang: Beauty and the beast

“Pre-feminism, it was a bit fucked up. As a woman you basically had to be a good mum, a good cook and a good fuck – that’s all you had to be,” asserts Jessica Latowicki. “But now you can’t have flaws. You have to be professional and eco-minded and thin but eat whatever you want and be fashionable, but not into fashion – and still be a good mum, a good cook and a good fuck. There’s no room, there’s no choice. We’re bombarded with those images of what it is to be a modern woman. You can’t have faults.”

Latowicki talks passionately and coherently about issues that concern her. It is all the more remarkable in that just moments ago she was standing in her bra and knickers, covered in lipstick, weeping in a crowded café.

This is A Fault Line, Latowicki’s exploration of what it means to be a woman here and now – in the 21st century, Western world. She takes inspiration, she explains, from her own ‘imperfections’ – but the show soon grew beyond that. “I guess I was trying to find a way to look at my own faults and pull them out into something that’s much further away than me,” she says, “because I’m not necessarily interested in doing a show about myself.”

A Fault Line takes on the narrative of a subverted beauty contest in which Latowicki, the sole contestant, is put through a series of humiliating tests to determine “the best, the greatest, the strongest, the smartest and the most beautiful person. Around. Here. Anywhere.”

It starts tamely with ball gown round after ball gown round and Latowicki’s almost comedic attempt at twirling a baton. However, events soon take a sinister turn and the contestant is throwing herself against walls, covering her body in lipstick and being ordered again and again to “strip down or face disqualification.”

It is at this moment that the true emotion of the piece kicks in. The audience begin to realise that from baton twirling to the unexpected ‘swimwear round’ – nothing has gone right for the contestant. “I think it’s watching someone systematically fail,” says Latowicki, “It’s about control and being controlled – wanting to move forward and that sense of competition and feeling worth.”

It’s undeniably moving – mainly because Latowicki’s pain and embarrassment is so real. There’s no ham acting, no crocodile tears – she is genuinely upset. “It’s weird. I don’t mind [stripping down] but it ends up being particularly vulnerable,” Latowicki says, “But in the end, it doesn’t matter how I feel, it matters how the audience feels.”

And, as I look around the audience, it certainly seems to be having a profound effect. People – and not just the women – look angry, hurt and confused. Perhaps, like Latowicki, they are confronting their own ‘fault lines’.

Jessica Latowicki is one half of Made In China, whose new show We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) will have a 3-week run at Battersea Arts Centre in March this year.


Interview questions also asked by Hannah Elsy.