Bitch on Heat: A Modern Day Pandora’s Box

Bitch on Heat is artist Leah Shelton’s most recent project, a highly physicalised display of performance art staged in the intimate venue of Theatre Works. Designed to both demonstrate and rival the patriarchy and its relentless oppression of women, Shelton takes on one of the biggest issues we currently face. Directed by Ursula Martinez, this show explores the timelessness of sexism, and how it has not disappeared in 2019, rather morphed itself into different manifestations within society. 

Forget the Met Gala, for this show is the true definition of camp. From tight latex bodysuits with a detailed full face mask complete with rubbery lips, to a simple flowing white sheet, Shelton morphs before our very eyes. Doubling as the costume and set designer as well as the performer, Shelton has created a vision on stage that provides the perfect actors playground. This, partnered with an eclectic mashup of all things sound (Kenneth Lyons), and lightning sharp lighting (Jason Glenwright), makes the stagecraft just as exciting as the content. Not overshadowing Shelton, these elements serve to highlight the performance, further enunciating the rebellious values of the text. 

It is this text which could use some refining. Although punchy, poignant and creative, there is nothing new here. This show knows its’ demographic, this is not a space for elderly conservatives or anyone with unprogressive views, rather a seating bank full of people who want to see a changing world. Thus whilst the show is something bold and exciting, there is nothing here to challenge an audience members views. No call to action or demand that we must think in an intersectional way when it comes to oppression and revolution. To see Shelton push the work just a little further to extend it just a little more from the conventional female existence would have truly been something brave and boundary pushing. 

Nonetheless, Shelton is a mesmerising performer. Moving easily from one character to another, props and wigs are disguised cleverly within the set. A master of the craft, Shelton demonstrates high skills in lip synching, pole dancing, physical theatre, puppetry, and acrobatics throughout the performance. These are true feats of the body, and as we watch Shelton perform them, we see how wrong the patriarchy really is about what women are capable of. 

Despite being a one person show, this production is an ensemble piece. The cast and creatives overlap and intertwine, creating something that is visually spectacular, relevant and glorious. Although somewhat restricted in ideas and lacking more all encompassing values, Bitch on Heat is ruthless and unapologetic. Down with the patriarchy, one blow up sex doll at a time. 

Lucy Holz

Leah Shelton’s production of Bitch on Heat runs from 8 – 19 May at Theatre Works.

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