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Girl in Suitcase, Telegraph Hill Festival 2018

22 Apr 2018

Thirty chairs were set in a quarter circle of radiating ranks that faced one corner of the room. Their eyeless attention was directed towards a vintage suitcase that lay across two small square tables pressed against a cold fireplace. A brace of large gongs were hanging adjacent, surrounded by an array of bowls, pipes and percussion instruments; the tools of a soundbath maestro. We had lights, we had cameras, and it was time for a little action. It was time for…

Girl in Suitcase: Equinox performance.

Girl in Suitcase is Esther Bunting. It is an ever-evolving performance that celebrates female power and the natural human body through story-telling, theatre, dance, music, life art, and audience participation. For this return visit to The Telegraph at The Earl of Derby for the Telegraph Hill Festival, Esther would be ‘Lady Summerisle’, joined by Soulwaves sound artist Sarah Kent, our friend Cy and me: “with the turning of the season and the shedding of a skin, we let go of old ways and usher in the new.


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

In my guise as an unlikely Lord Summerisle – figure-hugging dress, wild hair, lashings of mascara – I closed the suitcase with Lady Summerisle curled inside and sashayed downstairs to signal time for ticket-holders to enter. Speed was of the essence, albeit a theatrically nonchalant speed. Everybody was welcomed and invited to take drawing materials, though many brought their own. When the last latecomer had settled I gave a sign for Sarah to take up her penny whistle and begin playing ‘We’ll meet again‘.


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

Artiste! Surrealiste! Improvisateuse!

This was to be a show in four parts; starting with wartime surrealism, moving on to the modern muse, flaring with ferocious feminism and culminating with the construction of a highly unusual sacrifice. When Sarah’s penny whistle and my accompanying kazoo fell silent, Cy stepped forth as Roland Penrose to introduce an extraordinary refugee from 1940s Paris, that he’d found in an unattended suitcase – “An artiste! Surrealiste! Improvisateuse!” – and at long last Esther could come up for air.


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

Perfect me in pastel! Ignite me in ink!

Esther’s dress and mask, together with my own and other masks in the show, had all been handmade by genius designer, Estelle Riviere Monsterlune. So exquisite was the crimson devil outfit worn by Esther whilst portraying her own fictional grandmother, that only the artist in her natural state could be an improvement. As Sarah gave a last rendition of ‘We’ll meet again‘, so Lady Summerisle peeled out of layers and began to share her own stories as a modern-day life model.

Nude standing poses, movement to the sounds of a gong bath, shawls and a pink hat for nostalgia… whilst a captivated audience sat sketching, or simply entranced. In the midst of it all, an invitation was extended for one of them to try modelling. Hands were raised and one volunteer selected; he undressed and stood bare for 5-minutes. Before the first half ended, a second volunteer was summoned and he too posed naked while wave after wave of gong shimmers engulfed us. Both first-timers, they did very well.


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

Do not underestimate the power

A short interval allowed our audience to descend as one and recharge their glasses at the bar while the performers changed costume. For Esther, this meant covering up; for me and Cy, it meant quite the reverse. When all had returned to their chairs, the three of us re-entered the room. Esther climbed onto the tables and – with a naked masked man standing either side in a surrealist court of law – delivered an impassioned call to action for every woman: “…wear whatever the fuck you like and join the revolution!


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

Our wicker person! Who is willing?

The words “Testimony… Sacrifice… Rebirth” on the event’s advertising, along with the presence of Lady and Lord Summerisle, may have suggested a probable denouement to fans of legendary 1973 movie, ‘The Wicker Man‘. We would build a wicker person! Out of naked bodies! More volunteers – good friends, all – emerged from the audience and were assembled into tableaux that could be held for 5 or 10-minutes. Artists drew each wondrous construction whilst Esther and Sarah made music.


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

There were four wicker persons in total, starting with four volunteers creating a head, a body and two arms. By the end they’d gained two legs and even had myself appended as a spare limb. Esther and Sarah played ‘Gently Johnny‘ on violins, and later Sarah played pipes while Esther sang ‘How do (Willow’s song)‘. It was a magical, beautiful finale to a special performance that had been embraced in a warm, joyful spirit of body positivity. Esther gave her thanks and took heartfelt applause. Bravo, Girl in Suitcase!


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

Let us look at people’s drawings

We’d expected the performance might last 90-minutes but ultimately it ran for 2-hours. Everybody present was invited to draw throughout and some marvellously characterful sketches emerged. Thank you to all who shared their work!


© Irene Lafferty photo and drawing

© Ruty Benjamini photo and drawing

© Irene Lafferty photo and drawing

© Sophie Park photo and drawing

© Sophie Park photo and drawing

© Sophie Park photo and drawing

© Irene Lafferty photo and drawing

© Ruty Benjamini photo and drawing

Cast and credits

Created and performed by:

  • Esther Bunting – largely autobiographical writing, with a little fantasy
  • Sarah Kent – Soulwaves sound shaman

With the hugely appreciated support of:

  • Cy Wol – Roland Penrose
  • Steve Ritter – Lord Summerisle
  • Estelle Riviere Monsterlune – costumes
  • Lidia – filming
  • Judit Prieto Rovira – photography
  • all at Telegraph Hill Festival
  • The Telegraph at The Earl of Derby and all who work there
  • Aladdin’s Cave London for the suitcase

Esther’s inspirations:

I’m not an actor. I wince as I recall missing part of my only significant line and coming in too early with my kazoo… yet my intonations in the style of Christopher Lee were appreciated, and of course everyone loved the dress. OK, I can be a show-off, and I’m always happy to donate my body for art, but really I derive most joy simply from being able to work with such talented people and support Esther in her creation of incredible performances. Girl in Suitcase is Esther Bunting.


© Judit Prieto Rovira photo

From → Art

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