Perfectly Imperfect Women

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Sian Bayley

at 09:34 on 12th Aug 2017

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Danyah Miller is a multi-award-winning storyteller, famous for her performance in Michael Morpurgo’s ‘I believe in Unicorns’, which premiered at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Her kind and warm voice immediately puts audiences at ease as if they are meeting with an old friend, and in many ways her latest show, ‘Perfectly Imperfect Women’ is a group therapy session that explores the toxic desire to be flawless in today’s filtered and photoshopped society.

Miller is to be commended for the way she engages with her audiences, chatting with them as they file into the theatre to slowly warm them up before she asks them more intimate questions about what they would improve about themselves, their friends and family, their work, and society as a whole. The responses soon come flooding in from an interested and engaged audience comprised of men and women from different generations, but who are eager to find common ground with one another.

Miller then switches up her performance to recite a fairy tale that describes the various queens of a fictional ‘queendom’, and their fraught relationships with one another. Here Miller’s experience as a storyteller shines through as she captivates the audience through her eloquent language and intelligent use of multi-purpose props. Her story is made all the more compelling when she reveals it is based on the women in her own family, bringing the performance back to reality.

Ruminating on the pressures and expectations of womanhood, particularly with regards to being the perfect mother, Miller tells the tale of her great-grandmother, Hannah Elizabeth, in an attempt to understand the woman she is today. Although all of the women she describes have serious faults, Miller makes an effort to understand the motivations behind their behaviour and forgive them for their failures in a celebration of imperfection. This is taken right up until the present day, as Miller talks frankly about her own experience as a mother, and the inevitable mistakes she has made along the way.

‘Perfectly Imperfect Women’ is both dazzlingly funny and heart-wrenchingly sad, combining an intimately biographical piece with an open discussion about love, loss, and self-belief. I was amazed to see how comfortable the audience felt around Miller, as they shared their feelings and described their fears. Miller’s concluding speech about being a wise woman may appear cliched to some, but I found it particularly empowering as it encouraged women to refrain from harsh judgement, accept imperfection, and stand on one another’s shoulders. It was a truly beautiful piece of theatre that touched my heart and made me think twice about being harsh on myself and others.

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Eleanor Lawson

at 12:54 on 12th Aug 2017

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Talking to the audience of her one-woman show, Danyah Miller asks what it would take for us to be perfect. Ideas for accomplishing the perfect life include better Wi-Fi, more self-confidence, and more acceptance from the people around us. It is the latter that Miller keeps returning to, how there is a pressure from not only ourselves to be perfect, but from the people who love us most.

Miller’s show focuses on the toxic drive for perfection, and tries to overcome this ultimately self-destructive impulse. It is emotively presented as a gendered problem, and focuses on the pressure that passes from one female generation to another. As the flier for the show states: “This show explores what drives us to live perfect lives as mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, bread-winners.” She returns to the image of mother and daughter, and the inadvertent pressure that can be placed on a daughter’s shoulders when a mother tries to create the idea of perfection in her child.

Miller draws on her strengths as a performer, from her absorbing storytelling to her intimate conversations with the audience. Creatively weaving her own relationships with her mother and grandmother into a fairytale about a princess ‘poisoned’ with dragon scales by her grandmother, she narrates and acts “a biographical wonder tale” based on her own experience with psoriasis. The tiny stage space is used innovatively which perfectly compliements her storytelling technique, with a chair and ladder transforming to become everything from a birthing pool to a children’s bedroom. Miller has a real warmth and charisma as she tells us her stories. It is no surprise that she describes herself first as a storyteller, with Michael Morpurgo himself calling her “a storytelling phenomenon”. She has an infectious warmth and charisma that draw her audience in and keep them in the palm of her hand. Her shrill remarks about failing to stop her own dog biting her daughter, twice, brilliantly show her strength as a comedian.

‘Perfectly Imperfect Women’ is a gentle feminist take on the toxic drive for perfection that plagues women. Through each story, she shows how one woman’s sense of self-failure can be passed on to her daughter by the impulse to correct things in her child, to keep daughters neat and tidy and safe by reigning them in. However, if Miller ever seems to critique the role a woman can play in trying to mould her daughter into something unachievable, it is worth remembering that the show was created in celebration of International Women’s Day 2017. Miller is brimming with love and pride for her fellow women, “on whose shoulders we can proudly stand”, and stresses the importance of passing the baton to the next generation of women. While this is arguably a piece too gentle to actually be radical, its message is important and is lovingly passed to its audience.

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