21 Pornographies // Mette Ingvartsen

The performance pivots on a body harsh in the light, with power, sex and violence evoked through the calm narration of decadent sexuality. Dukes, kings and magistrates taking part in an orgy of privilege are slowly revealed through a slow drip of context, delivered by the artist in a measured storyteller’s tone. Ingvartsen orients the audience within the geography of the narrative. The room within her description is layered over the top of the one we sit in. Watching quietly becomes participation and culpability, a rehearsal of our own participation in the desiring looks that run under the societies we walk through. It reveals our acceptance of sexualised interactions and of abuse used as a plot point, and the fictionalisation of experiences that are a reality to thousands across the world.  It raises the unequal dynamics of power at play in who gets to see and who gets to be seen as a sexual being.

Part of a series of choreographies (the ‘Red Pieces’) that explore sexuality, Ingvartsen draws those listening into the decadence she narrates. But this storytelling continually contrasts against the fierce and sudden use of movement. Ingvartsen barks like a dog through swift image flashes, unsettling the conventions of interaction with the audience set up moments before. Bare skin glows under naked strip light, and smoke, strobe and dance provide a parallel narrative to the text the artist recites. Occasionally aligning but rarely exact, the significance of the movement is one that builds to question looking itself through the brightness of light. Watching the body spin becomes impossible to sustain, forcing the audience to look away as their eyes involuntarily close against the glare. Noise explodes forth without warning to disrupt the passive listening to stories of sexual atrocity.

The dissonant combination of text and movement requires careful attention to the questions it asks. The piece offers no solution or remedy but stages and makes explicit the tension within the display of the body in a culture of desiring looks.

     Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Mette Ingvartsen - 21 Pornographies

Mette Ingvartsen - Delving into Dance

The Voice of the StorytellerThe New York Times

Sex, Health and Society - The Conversation

The Representation of Women in Advertising - AdAge

Hymen Manoeuvre // Evelyn Mok

During her teenage years, Evleyn Mok protected her hymen with ‘a ninja-like focus’. Such candid humour effervesces throughout her show Hymen Manoeuvre. Mok weaves a multi-stranded show around her heritage, generational differences, sex, body shaming, and the personal/political intersections of institutionalised racism, classism and sexism. In the intimate setting of Bunker 1 (Pleasance), Mok losing her virginity at twenty-five is the story tussled into the foreground with plenty of awkward interaction with male audience members. Mok repeating the word ‘vagina’ or ‘my vagina’ feeling palpably radical to some.

And there it is - the discomfort that some may feel at a woman of colour speaking about her vagina a lot, giving a detailed description of her breasts out of a bra, preferring cake to her ‘first time’, shrieking a little, taking up space like she is meant to be there, being funny and maybe - more disruptive in a comedy show - not being funny…

Mok’s writing upends expectations. She critiques racist, sexist, fat-phobic stereotypes by teasing, unravelling and morphing them. More often than not, after a story that sees her bemused, abused or disempowered, her punchlines land the agency firmly back in her hands. This feminist act of claiming power is one in need of tireless repetition to counter the daily aggressors - the manspreaders, the revenge porn video senders, the stand up comedians who spill the beans to their other stand up mates about sleeping with a 25 year old virgin, these mates who then make comedy routines about it…The latter happened to Mok. Her intimacies and right over them became appropriated into someone else’s material. 

Patriarchy teaches girls to be nervous that boys will be trading secrets about them i.e. school gossip or sexting made public. Women are taught simultaneously to guard our bodies for fear of humiliation but loosen them up just the right amount for male pleasure. Mok’s is the too familiar tale of public shaming and Hymen Manoeuvre could be seen as Mok’s way of wrestling back control and making sure people hear her experiences on her own terms. 

As she hurtles us through her autobiography, what opens up is patriarchy’s messages that there is something essentially shameful about the female form and female pleasure. It seems to be only some time after losing her virginity, that Mok asks herself if she had good time. She did not. The suppression of talking about female pleasure within sex education and wider media accompanies the shame many girls and women feel about their bodies. What’s more, female bodies frequently become funny - something to draw ridicule from and, as in the case of Mok, this humour is leveraged to assert male social power. 

Oppressive power structures take so much multi-stranded work to undo. In tales that continually resist collapse into any singularity, we glimpse the burden of this effort. She wonders whether by making the show she is indulging in her shame. She shares the incessant, looping questions she has about someone’s intentions when she first encounters them. At times, there is a sharpness to her tone and the room is silent. The shield of her wit sometimes slips and we as audience are sitting quietly with someone un-filtering themselves and letting us in. Maybe to be this funny and defiant, you have to cut close to your own bones. 

- Alexandrina Hemsley


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hymen ManoeuvreEvelyn Mok 

The Pleasure Principle - International Woman’s Health Coalition

Bitch Media

Eight Women Of Color Comedians on Sexism, Racism and Making People Laugh - Wear Your Voice

Misogyny on Facebook: A Rant About ‘Vagina Cleavage’ - Gal Dem

Primates // Tessa Coates

A stack of hefty hardback books wobbles next to the microphone throughout Tessa Coates's stand-up show. An aged academic tome sharing the title Primates is there, but also Girl's Own Adventures and the Famous Five - and is that a Harry Potter towards the bottom of the pile? Yes it is, and despite the initial suspicion that these books have been chosen solely for their looks, it turns out that they are all pertinent to the show.

Coates begins by thanking the audience profusely for coming, establishing her persona as an earnest, prudish and perhaps rather posh anthropology graduate who is going to share with us her passion for the study of humans, in particular the study of penises. But she adopts an alternative persona - a cool American - in order to express this as 'I love dick'. And she plays another character, her former lecturer, to introduce the subject. With a background in sketch comedy, Coates is a natural at putting on funny characters, but there is surely an anthropological angle to why it is easier to say certain things sincerely only when playing at being someone else.

Anthropology is the frame for the show. While we learn the reason for the human penis having the shape it does and why some sperm have been called 'kamikaze' by scientists, the content is mostly observational comedy about sex, dating and relationships. Perhaps that is a large part of anthropology, too. But if we understand modern human behaviour as simply the results of past evolutionary pressure and biology, does that reduce our experience of life and love? Like scientists from other disciplines (such as neuroscientist Anil Seth), Coates grapples with this dilemma, and earnestly concludes - in the character of the professor - that while life is essentially meaningless, we are all special.

- Michael Regnier


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Primates - Tessa Coates

Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? - Huffington Post

Nothing to Be Afraid Of (Anil K. Seth) - Granta 

The Meaning of Life and the Search for Happiness - Popular Social Science (2013) 

Debating Self, Identity, and Culture in Anthropology - Current Anthropology (1999)

Is the Presented Self Sincere? Goffman, Impression Management and the Postmodern Self - Theory, Culture and Society (1992) 

5 Guys Chillin' // King's Head Theatre and Em Lou Productions

As you check into 5 Guys Chillin’, you are handed two condoms and told not to use them during the performance. There’s some irony in the joke as the characters in the show probably wouldn’t want them.

The play is a snapshot of five guys during a chemsex party. This is usually defined as sex where the drugs (G or GHB, crystal meth and mephedrone) are taken before and during a prolonged ‘chill-out’ to prolong and enhance it. As with any other play, it would be wrong to extrapolate too widely, to suggest that it represented all in the “gay community”, itself a lazy term sometimes wrongly used interchangeably with “gay scene.” Both terms imply a complete uniformity of gay and bisexual experience. Nevertheless, a report on a survey of 1000 gay men in London in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham suggested that a tenth had had chemsex in the past 4 weeks. Reading into the actual survey though shows that the sample was recruited via “on-line social and sexual networking sites”, so it is unclear how representative it is.

The characters of 5 Guys Chillin’ reminisce about past fuck parties, and the drugs that allow them to party orgasm-free for days. Their conversation is only about sex. Most of them are HIV+, but they are fairly blasé about this as they have a low viral load. They prefer riding bareback anyway and are not all concerned about telling new partners their HIV status; one thinks all gay men should be HIV+ – after all PrEP is the solution. Other STDs are dismissed as curable inconveniences.

Gradually as the drugs start to work, individual differences emerge, with small glimpses of the men's back stories. Cultural pressures led to one guy to getting married, a set-up he has mixed feeling about, even though his wife knows he has sex with men. Others display wistful reflections on a past life without drugs. The guy who feels that being fisted helps someone to connect deeply inside him remains resolutely unquestioning – no regrets there. Strangely, much of this hedonism is reminiscent of attitudes during the 14th century to the Black Death, when desperate people who saw no future for humanity lived for the day and entirely for themselves. The guys in 5 Guys Chillin’ are cavalier about others, but also fatalistic about themselves.

- Alistair Lax


Links Relevant to this Diagnosis:

5 Guys Chillin'

What is Chemsex?New Scientist

The Chemsex Study - Sigmar Research

Chemsex, HIV and STI Transmission - British Medical Journal

Personal Testimony of Chemsex Experience - London Evening Standard

Touch // DryWrite

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.

- Rebecca West

In her new play Touch, Vicky Jones explores what the fruits of feminism are, and questions who has the real power in a relationship. Dee, a 33-year-old single woman, has left a failed relationship in Wales to establish herself and make a life in London. She tries to connect with herself and build meaningful connections through a variety of online dating sites, but each liaison widens the gap between her expectations and reality.

Dee confronts Miles, an older man who is part of a group involved with S&M, and argues that he is trying to make her weak. ‘It’s no fun for me if you are weak’ he responds, because that is the game. We pretend we are strong to be mastered by another. Although Dee talks as if she is in control of each relationship, she is actually a victim of what her partners want from her. Eddie, the first man we meet on stage, tells her that ‘there are woman out there who are doing better than you at being a woman. Who enjoy being a woman. And who have their fucking shit together’. But getting her shit together is the very reason Dee rented her tiny bedsit in London.

The big question becomes one of what being a woman is supposed to be in this liberal, forward-thinking twenty-first century. As Elf Lyons writes:

You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect. 

And this is exactly what happens not just to Dee, but to far too many single thirty-something women, with their biological clock ticking, their hormones buzzing and constant reminders that they are not cohabiting, reproducing, or being what they thought they would be at this stage of their lives. 

Some of the confusion rests with the new generation of men who support the concepts of feminism and yet do not know what is expected of them as partners. As Mark White writes in Psychology Today 

It is difficult for men, especially those of us who appreciate and embrace the importance of being respectful and considerate toward women, to balance those attitudes with the animalistic, non-rational expressions of passion and desire that women want from us.

That is the dilemma faced by singles today. We have commercialized sex to the point where partners are touted as objects to shop for on sites like Tinder or in pornography for momentary excitement and passion, but when it comes to the long haul we are at a loss. No one knows how to react. Just where is the line between subservience and co-operation, dominance and abusive control? 

-       Lynn Ruth Miller

Touch is at the Soho Theatre, London until August 26th 2017. A new production of DryWrite's  Fleabag is at Underbelly, George Square during the Fringe from 21st-27th August.


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Touch - Soho Theatre

Fleabag - Underbelly George Square

Why Men Find It So Hard to Understand What Women Want - Psychology Today

Women’s Attitudes Toward Sex - Huffington Post

Has Feminism Worked? - Telegraph

Elf Lyons - Polyamory: A New Way to Love

HOW IS UNCLE JOHN? / Creative Garage

HOW IS UNCLE JOHN? / Creative Garage

Abuse often comes shrouded in code. It comes in signs. Physical marks and distress, eyes that won’t meet yours, garbled speech, a sort of radical shrinking. There’s the less obvious, mental iterations. Rapid and sudden introversion, anxiety, depression: another sort of radical diminishing.

F*CKING MEN / King's Head Theatre

F*CKING MEN / King's Head Theatre

Ten interlocking scenes present separate sets of lovers, each semi-ironically riffing on different ‘aspects’ of love. The platonic ideal. ‘Simple’ carnal lust. Tortured archetypes (‘Actor’ and ‘Journalist’) playing out and struggling with their desires, counter-desires and the simple physical fact of their bodies. 



Verbatim theatre may have its limitations, but as a way of meshing together oral histories and competing testimonies it has an effectiveness that ‘conventional’ theatre and performance can be more leaden in conveying. 

TRIGGER / Christeene

TRIGGER / Christeene

Christeene comes riding in on an inner pony, an imaginary animal representing self-esteem and unapologetic sexuality. Each night, working whilst a shedload of explosives explodes from Edinburgh castle above her, Christeene is at work to create the ambience of the kind of sex disco that you always wished you were invited to but are not quite convinced you’d know what to do at if you were. The inner-pony is a my-little metaphor of freedom, a call to abandon proprieties and niceties in favour of a new kind of holistic sexual transcendence.

BLUSH / Snuff Box Theatre

BLUSH / Snuff Box Theatre

The raw emotions on display in Blush are the primal responses to those whose lives have been detrimentally affected by pornography. Five candid stories address porn addiction, revenge porn, seeking approval and validation through porn, and as the characters and voices change, it’s apparent they are all defined by exposure to porn.

HYENA / Romana Soutus

HYENA / Romana Soutus

Hyena asks us to defy the feminine. Romana Soutus employs cold roast chicken and prominent pubic hair in a visceral and provocative piece of performance. Like Chloe Khan, Big Brother's Enfant Terrible de jour seemingly defiant in the face of slut shamers, Romana wears her Louboutin's (red soles a homage to Paris's prostitutes) with pride.



A black dog is perhaps a rather genteel metaphor for depression, particularly when compared to the flatulent walrus that Annie Siddons has chosen to represent the encroaching loneliness of her suburban dislocation. Loneliness is not the same as depression, as Siddons points out in the show, but the dog and walrus are wont to introduce each other when you’re vulnerable. They’re from the same stable and they go hand in hand in vast modern cities and their blurred edges. The trek from home to work, the length of the working day, the dislocation of communities from each other and the yawning gap between what you might have and want stretches us thin. 

TORCH / Flipping the Bird

TORCH / Flipping the Bird

The setting for Torch is a narrow one: its narrator has locked herself in a toilet cubicle at a nightclub, unable to summon the confidence to storm the dancefloor despite plenty of shots and a snort of coke. Within its confines, she journeys across her past, reflecting on the relationships and sexual experiences that shaped and eroded her sense of self.



Long before his HIV diagnosis, Agnew needed another for his mental health, but the GP he saw wrote him off successively as an alcoholic, a food addict, a gambler, a sex addict and more, without recognising the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

THE MAGNETIC DIARIES / Reaction Theatre Makers

THE MAGNETIC DIARIES / Reaction Theatre Makers

A poetry play based on Madame Bovary, The Magnetic Diaries describes a contemporary battle with severe depression, and the course of brain-altering repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) therapy that our protagonist, Emma, embarks on.



We get a balloon to blow up as we walk down into the theatre. We are offered vodka, laughing juice - the merriest of spirits, we are informed - by a woman in open-toed kitten heels, red dress and suicide-blonde hair with an overdose of makeup. We’re at a surprise party and she’s the host.

THE TALK / Mish Grigor

THE TALK / Mish Grigor

It's a basic fact of parenting that children grow up to do things you might personally find regrettable: contract sexual diseases, for instance, or make theatre, or worse, make theatre about contracting sexual diseases. Mish Grigor's parents have approved a version of her text for The Talk but not, she twinkles, this one. And