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  • Flora Gosling

Review: HIGH STEAKS (Summerhall)

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

ELOINA gets to the meat of labiaplasty

It's rare to find a show that feels like it is at the beginning of a conversation. Even the boldest, most daring shows about sex and bodies usually find themselves in a saturated market, but not HIGH STEAKS. Perhaps it is just me, but I haven’t come across many shows about the beauty standards surrounding labia, let alone shows where the performer hangs beef steaks from her own. It’s a sensitive subject, but where better to inspect your anatomy than in the anatomy lecture theatre at Summerhall?

Photo Credit: Julia Testa

As factual theatre and docudrama go HIGH STEAKS neither conforms to a story-like narrative nor focuses on facts and testimonies for its structure. Instead, it is a mix of autobiography, interview audios, facts about labiaplasty (a surgery that reduces the size of one’s labia minora), and more silent, theatrical sequences in which she prepares a meal with the steaks that were initially hung from her genitals. Whether this bitty style is successful depends on how much you trust the performer; whether they are both sensitive and entertaining, honest without being self-indulgent. As soon as creator and performer ELOINA pokes her head through the curtain we know we are in safe hands. Even when she experiences a wardrobe malfunction with the little vegetation she has to cover herself, it only endears us to her more, as though we are sitting in her living room rather than in her audience.

She plays a delicate balance between making the show about herself (how she asked for labiaplasty surgery aged just 13), and making it about the wider picture. This is not a singular sob story, but a story that connects all women and vulva-havers who have felt pressure and shame to fit an arbitrary and impossible beauty standard. The interviews add a diversity of perspectives and experiences, even if they are not always as interesting as what is happening on stage. Watching the steaks we have come to see as a representation of her labia flattened with a mallet may make you flinch, but as ELOINA prepares the meal we drift further and further away from the metaphor. It is oddly freeing to see a metaphor that was the selling point of the performance being slowly abandoned, as though by the end of the performance there is no more need for that kind of mocking comparison.

Photo Credit: Julia Testa

There is an almost meditative atmosphere to the performance. It is both a theatre and a safe space in equal measure, and we are as aware of each other and our bodies as we are of the performer. It is a testimony to theatre as an art form since no other art form can create a sense of community like that, but also a testimony to ELOINA as a performer. Looking around at the laughing, tear-streaked faces in the audience it is hard to deny the impact that the performance has had, and rightly so. HIGH STEAKS may be at the start of the theatrical conversation on labiaplasty, but what it has to say is exactly what so many women and labia-havers need to hear. Five stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: "It was great! Silly, meaningful and delicious."

High Steaks has completed its run at Summerhall and will perform at the Falmouth international Arts Festival on 6-7th October, at the Tom Thumb theatre in Margate on 9-10th November, at the Colchester Arts Festival on 15th of November, and in Leeds at the Centre for Live Art in Leeds on the 23rd of November


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