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Encounters

Published 9 May 2012

The two parts of the Bush theatre’s double bill, Dry Ice and You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy, are as different as chalk and cheese – an idiom which I am sure the bilingual Parisian in the latter title would be proud of – yet they complement each other in a manner that is more akin to cheese and biscuits.

While Dry Ice is a modern tale depicting one woman’s fleeting and detached encounters with creepy men in a strip club, You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy is a story from the past that portrays one fateful meeting and the true love that ensued.

Directed by David Schwimmer, Sabrina Mahfouz’s debut solo show kick starts the double bill. Inspired by her job as a lap dancing waitress, it takes an intimate look into the life of 24-year-old Nina and her experiences as a stripper. Taking on different voices and demeanours, Mahfouz portrays the four types of men – each as sleazy as the other – with whom she finds herself cavorting, along with a host of other characters who share various views on the way she earns her living.

A short interval sees the stage transformed. I say transformed but, in actual fact, an oversized French flag adorning the back wall forms the only notable distinction between the contemporary strip club and 1940s Paris.

Caroline Horton’s You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy presents a bright, cheerful, overtly eccentric French woman with a personality as large as the emblem behind her. As she waits for the train that will reunite her with her English fiancé, Chrissy recounts the story of their first meeting and the problems facing their relationship during a time of war. But that’s not before the zany Parisian takes delight in teaching the audience the difference between jam and jambon.

The two women in Encounters aren’t merely separated by a stretch of water, they are worlds apart. Mahfouz’s Nina is an isolated individual; confined to the small space inside the ring of light surrounding her on the floor, trapped in her dead-end job and by the conventional notion of beauty to which she feels the need to conform. Chrissy is a more liberated being, who dashes to every corner of the stage, uninhibited by other people and focused on her goal.

The minimalist sets ensure nothing detracts from the individual performances. While Horton’s Chrissy relies on her many suitcases to set the scene, Dry Ice’s Mahfouz uses her powers of description to fill the empty space around her.

Unlike Mahfouz’s Nina, Horton’s Chrissy wouldn’t dream of making jokes about Cheryl Cole’s upbringing, but nevertheless her traditional values and comic actions have the audience roaring with laughter… until the show’s unexpected conclusion.

Divulging the details would spoil that special moment of realisation but I defy anyone not to be moved by the emotional finale, which is played out with the aid of personal films and photographs. In fact, I would be surprised if tears didn’t pour, as Chrissy would say, like the English rain.

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