In The Perfect Body, Italian actress Lavinia Savignoni’s one woman show at PQA Venues@ Riddle’s Court, a lifestyle guru starts to question the validity of her beliefs.
Dressed in the perfect 21st century ‘clean eater’s’ garb of little floral dress and cardigan, Savignoni begins the show by answering a call from a client who wishes to change her appointment. We learn from this that Savignoni is a personal consultant, advising people on their diet, health and exercise. As she describes her rules for life, Savignoni is alternately gentle, talking about ‘sweet little goats’ in a field, the sun shining, the plants blooming, and, increasingly, aggressive. A line about eagles soaring segues into a description of them tearing a goat to pieces and picking fruit is compared to ripping out your own nails.
As she expresses ever more extreme views – which all boil down to cleanliness (‘the most important thing is to KEEP OUR BODIES CLEAN’) and – surprise! – thinness, Savignoni’s character becomes ever more manic. Even when she talks about beauty and goodness – things which are, for her, completely dictated by diet – we can see the tension in her body; she wrings her little dress in her hands, fidgets with her phone, and when she makes juice in her special ‘non-violent’ machine, her hammering of the chopping board with a knife is worthy of an axe murderer.
Her belief that every illness, mental or physical, can be blamed on eating ‘dirty’ food and ‘dead things’, on a fast food diet, strikes a familiar chord – this kind of twaddle is being peddled all over the internet, and is in many cases a cover for eating disorders.
Little hints are dropped as to what underlies this manic behaviour. She wants ‘Daddy’ to watch her upcoming TV programme, even though she really despises her audience – ‘they are all “me, me, me”’. When she talks about ‘poisons’ like cheeseburgers and cola, her underlying cravings for them start to break through. When she moves on to her obsession with bowel movements and coffee enemas, things become very graphic.
Gradually, we hear more of her story, and of the childhood experiences that have led, in part, to the problems she clearly has today; more and more issues spill out, including the pressures of social media and the need to present the perfect image, to have things she sees on Instagram. She is green with envy rather than cabbage. Her real lust for ‘rubbish’ food becomes ever more apparent;
‘What if they discover cake is good for you and I’ve deprived myself of it for twenty years?’
Savignoni is also a dancer, and her imitation of a balletic mouse in a school production of The Nutcracker is particularly good.
At the end of the show, now dressed as an old woman, Savignoni reflects on whether any of it was worth the bother.
Savignoni is an energetic, skilful actress, and to be able to perform such a fast and complicated monologue in a language other than one’s own is impressive. I do think, however, that Italian humour perhaps does not sit too well in Scotland, a nation known more for its dour cynicism and deadpan delivery. There is a little too much manic behaviour in this piece for me – a bit less would be more effective; as it is, we start to become immune to it half way through.
Nevertheless, The Perfect Body makes some good points about our strange and dysfunctional relationship to food today, and about the people who seek to make money by exploiting our insecurities and our hope for a simple answer to complex problems.
The Perfect Body, written and performed by Lavinia Savignoni and translated by Marco Quaglia, is at PQA Venues @Riddle’s Court (off The Lawnmarket), Venue 277, on 3-4, 6-11, 13-18 and 20-25 August at 12.30pm. Tickets £11.50/£8.50 available here