Lydia Higginson tells us that dressed. “is about howling and being ready to listen if anyone howls back”. This inspiring, brave, and utterly stunning piece – which my words cannot do justice to – follows Higginson’s recovery after experiencing sexual violence, and how her three childhood friends supported her through it. dressed. evokes a tremendously raw emotional response, and radiates an uplifting, beautiful, and necessary story of friendship, solidarity and survival.
Higginson, a costume maker, set out to remake her entire wardrobe – reclaiming control and redressing herself after being stripped. She brings these costumes onto the stage for the first time, working with three other performers to demonstrate the healing power of art.
Each costume represents a persona adopted by Higginson, and each of the four women develops a character surrounding her costume. We see a showgirl, beautiful and pure; a joker, using humour to cope with emotion; a warrior, crude but strong; and a dark woman, Higginson herself, dealing quietly with her experiences in the background.
These four women play to their strengths, bringing together their favoured medium – dance, song, theatre, and live sewing on stage. These elements come together in a seemingly effortless yet symbolic act of collaboration and love. And in themselves, too, they are executed magnificently. Imogen Mahadvi’s singing is heart-breakingly tender; Olivia Norris’ movement is mesmerising, and you can’t help but watch her intensely from the moment the play begins; Jose Dale-Jones’ performance is strong and captivating, and Higginson’s costumes are fantastic, both literally and because of their role in her recovery.
As well as well an inspired collusion of individual talents, and its delivery of important message, dressed. is aesthetically a beauty to watch. Norris’ choreography, and moments when the four women move in unison, are sometimes tender and sensitive; sometimes enraged and disorderly. The sewing machine, and the four standing lamps that surround it, make for an arresting image too. Their spidery legs and mechanisms, and the sound of the machine whirring, are somehow fragile and delicate – yet serve as a tool for Higginson’s empowerment.
Towards the play’s conclusion, Higginson tells us, “we will not have fixed anything”. And yes, monstrosities like this continue to happen; but these four friends managed to turn one incident into a joyful, powerful, feminist piece of art, which has touched me in a unique way. I’d give dressed. six stars if I could, but media recognition seems so insignificant by the end of the performance, when half the audience are streaming with tears. dressed. howls about friendship and love, and yet is so much more than that; it’s important, it’s wholly beautiful, and it’s mending.