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Review: Baby Face (Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe)

Katy Dye's piece looks at the sexualisation of very young women

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Katy Bye in Baby Face
© Daniel Hughes (flickr.com/danielvghughes)

Katy Dye looks young – no two ways about it. She's 26 but, dressed in school uniform onstage, stubby tie and short skirt, she could pass for 10 years younger. In Baby Face, she deploys her looks to discomfiting, accusatory effect in a string of performance pieces skewering the sexualisation of very young women.

Perched on a plastic high chair, legs dangling over the side, Dye lets out a sharp squeal – the sort of inchoate babyish wail that cuts right through you. It's not a cry for attention, but a howl of raging vulnerability – or is it vulnerable rage? In Baby Face, she swings from fetishised schoolgirl to exasperated mother. If society separates the two, deploying double standards, the two can absolutely co-exist in the same person.

Beginning with a wild pas de deux with her high chair, swinging it round in circles, Dye unpeels the underlying horror of motherhood; all its frustration, exhaustion and isolation. Even empty, a high chair slammed to the ground or shaken violently, carries a sting of shock. It becomes a plastic proxy for an absent child.

Yet, in interspersing such images with those of sexualised youth, Dye tears into the warp of the male gaze. Which, she demands, do we see more often? The teenage mum or the sexy schoolgirl? Whether coo-coo-ca-chooing her way through "I Wanna Be Loved", an ostensibly innocent number made almost indecent in the public consciousness, or cycling through Britney Spears' school sexpot routine, Dye slams home the implicit violence of pornifying young women.

She pours scorn on the side-effects: mothers shut out of society's sight and women that take being IDd as a compliment. What does it mean, she demands, to have "the flat stomach of a nine year old"; "the ass of an eight year old?" Her sentences skyrocket into a dog-whistle squeak that stings the ears, simultaneously flirtatiously and abrasive. She drops straight into a relatively realistic teenage attitude, wondering, insecurely, "Why does no one ever fancy me?"

Baby Face works through such abrupt juxtapositions and jarring handbrake turns, never letting you settle into spectatorship. Dye refuses to make herself an easy watch. She asks one audience member to mother her onstage, then interrogates another as to whether he finds her attractive, while dressed in school uniform – 26 and 16 at the same time. His silence speaks volumes; an admission of guilt.

The form can feel sketchy, more images strung together than an unfolding whole, but there's a sharpness to them that cuts through. Strands of baby lotion squirted across the stage. Children's clothing that rips at the seams. It's a scathing piece of emerging work – much more than an inchoate, babyish wail.

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