Tung Recommends: Ouroboros at Rosemary Branch Theatre

Charlotte Fox’s debut solo show Ouroboros follows the plight of an actress who, under the instruction of her agent, attends a wellness conference and consequently embarks on a new life path which promises to transform her career. In reality, her newfound regime threatens to destroy her. It’s a testament to Fox’s writing that what follows isn’t depressing - it’s affirming, ludicrous, surreal and raw. 

It all begins with an elaborate dance routine involving a chocolate cake. From the off, it’s obvious that Fox is an astonishing physical performer. Her movements flow from those of a gawky clown to a graceful ballerina to a classic cabaret star and back again. She’s skilled af and there’s no doubt about it, but in this opening sequence, it’s the cake I’ve got my eye on.

Fox makes this standard supermarket chocolate cake her glittering co-star; she places it centre stage, waving it around like the ghost of gluten past, transforming it into something mythical. It’s a credit to her skill as a performer and to her obviously ferocious intelligence that, although it’s ridiculous, it’s also truthful and painful. She makes food the central focus to be looked at but not touched, to be studied but not enjoyed, to be wrapped up in our own insecurities. Will eating this cake make me younger, prettier, thinner? No? I won’t eat it then.

Throughout Ouroboros we meet a conveyor belt of characters which showcase Fox’s knack for sending people up. Her ability to remix observational comedy with parody is a joy, and it takes a deft hand to present characters who are wildly off the spectrum (e.g. a terrifying Scouse ‘Vogue Yoga’ instructor) and yet still very firmly recognisable. She’s so bang on the money with her portrayal of the holistic wellness instructor that I almost cried tears.

That being said, at times Ouroboros can be a hard show to watch. If you’ve ever made yourself sick, or stopped yourself eating, or been told you’re just not attractive enough, then there’ll be things in this play that will feel like a punch to the gut. There’s one moment in particular which so accurately portrays the horror of trying to just order a bit of dinner when you’re starving, racked with self-hatred and striving for perfection that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Fox takes the 100 anxieties which whizz around our heads and crystallises them into one simple action.

At the end of the show, Fox asks herself the age-old question which seems to face all theatre makers looking at body image (I remember it too well from my own experience) — ‘do I go for a happy ending?’ I’ve thought about this a lot since. The name of the show is Ouroboros, the Greek word for ‘tail devourer’ aka the symbol for infinity, an endless cycle. As soon as the show was over there was a burning question on my mind: ‘Do I skip dinner, or get three dinners?’ 

Reader, I got dinner. Not a cursory ‘eat because you have to’ dinner and not a ‘binge to the point you won’t eat again’ dinner, just… dinner. I take that as evidence that the cycle can break, and that’s in part thanks to artists like Charlotte Fox who highlight how harmful food fads actually are, making us laugh and cry before sending us on our merry way with the reminder we’re infinitely more powerful than we think we are. And that’s pretty special. 

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