Nima Séne’s eclectic show, ‘Beige B*tch’ was staged by Contact at Z-arts’ STUN Studio. As we entered the theatre, we seemed to enter a different world; a decadently gold-encrusted desert setting, complete with a golden treadmill in motion. Piles of sand, ferns, coconuts and metal weights were littered about. The performer at the start was Jade Williams, and she laid the foundations for a highly original piece. She moved around the space effortlessly, movements fluid, occasionally accosting audience members with a few choice words- I managed to pick up the phrases ‘naked beauty’ and ‘in control’ from a few rows back.
This segued into a synchronised, infectiously fun dance number, as Nima Séne emerged, proclaiming delightedly about how ‘gorgeous’ we all were and getting audience members to take selfies with her. Lulled into a sense of security, Nima instructed us to ‘leave narrative at the door’.
Yet, I am unconvinced that without narrative, the show had much remaining. Made up of multiple seemingly self-contained parts, it felt fragmented, in a way that felt confusing rather than exciting. Indeed, there were moments when segments of the show became genuinely dull; the extended spoken word segments where Séne sat in the dark, for example. While the poetry had positive elements, it lacked the power to hold attention for longer than a few minutes.
Other parts of the show crossed into genuine discomfort. I’m all for making your audience uncomfortable with a purpose behind it, as long as they can figure out what that purpose is. The use of a video clip in which Nima portrayed three different east Asian characters competing in a ‘most ambiguous’ competition was jarring, not just because of the length of the piece (it felt like at least ten minutes) but because of the thick faux-Asian accent she was putting on. While I’m sure there was a reason for this, the disjointed format meant the intention was somewhat clouded, and it was difficult to gauge her purpose.
There were some poignant moments within the performance. Contact’s stated claim that the work tackled ‘im/perfection in the era of the image’ rang true at many points. The use of video editing was ingenious, and the work of filmmaker Daniel Hughes was innovative and enjoyable; I would have happily seen more of Séne in the chat-show format. Many of the visuals were very effective, such as Séne dropping items of clothing onto the moving treadmill, or the use of a pineapple as an exfoliator. There was an ambitious attempt to deal with the nuances of racism. If each segment had felt more developed, this would have had more impact.
‘Beige B*tch’ often felt like being within someone’s internal monologue, with little context and no idea how we got there. While the start was promising, and Sené is certainly a talented performer, the incoherent structure did her no favours. The ending was so distanced from the beginning as to have conceivably come from a different show altogether. While many elements were enjoyable, the performance was ultimately underwhelming.