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

Keeping My Kidneys // Mindy Raf

Shows at the Fringe are often ABOUT a singular thing: there’s a show about grief, a show about virginity, a show about anxiety, a show about coming out. Perhaps it is a marketing or PR strategy which makes the show ABOUT a singular thing, as its makes it easier to digest and to sell tickets, or it reflects the kernel of an idea which started an artist’s journey on a particular work. If Mindy Raf used the death of her mother as a starting point for her storytelling/stand up set Keeping My Kidneys, her detours, her ramblings, her journeys down the rabbit hole demonstrate that this is anything but just a show about a singular thing.  Instead, Raf makes a bold case for understanding how we are always all of our identities, and how these identities intersect, inform, challenge and support each other in exciting ways.

Along Raf’s journey through self-discovery and self-love are pointed and important revelations about the challenging and absurd realities of the American healthcare system (and its inability to deal with multiple health needs in a holistic way), midwestern Jewishness and family, and marginalized sexual identities (with her reflections on polyamory and pansexuality). As the fight for recognition and equality for LGBTQI+ people internationally and in the UK continues, Raf highlights the continued discomfort for those who fall (or stay) out of the mainstream – with playful conversations about biphobia and normative monogamy which remind us of how far we have to go in terms of true self-determination and pride. Raf challenges the idea that when we are dealing with one issue, or fighting one fight, we are not still engaged in a multitude of questions, oppressions, desires and conflicts. This confluence of influence is what makes Keeping My Kidneys unique in its storytelling: Raf is completely resistant to this being a show ABOUT one thing. Take it all, or leave it all, excitingly Raf has faith in her audience (and perhaps the world in 2017) that they can handle the complex nature of reality. 

- Brian Lobel


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Keeping My Kidneys - Mindy Raf

Polyamory’s Cultural Moment - NPR 

Ongoing Healthcare Debate and the Anxiety It Causes - New York Times

Cannabis Lube

Deathbed Promises on Reddit

Lena Waithe on Master of None and Coming Out Over Time - Vulture

Out // Rachael Young with Dwayne Antony

Rachael Young and Dwayne Antony choreograph their challenge to homophobia and transphobia in Caribbean communities through a stylised repetition of tasks and dance steps pushed to the limits of endurance. Their two bodies exist in relation, not only in the obvious moments of unison or canon, but in the instances of quiet as well, in the peeling of oranges and the unzipping of shoes. Two bodies, poised and beautiful, unapologetically black and queer. One of the most impactful moments of the performance features the voice of a pastor haranguing the ‘immorality’ of homosexuality and of trans identities, looped and warped to accompany a lean and bend, in and out of a strict band of light. The performers faces appear and recede, into light and out of sight into darkness. The hateful narrative of the soundtrack loses its legibility through its rhythmic hijack.

Out engages with the legacy of colonial laws that still permeate the legal systems of many Caribbean countries, buggery laws that foster and endorse a wider homophobia. The histories that affect cultural perceptions of sexuality involve the world, and the contemporary experience of individuals in diasporic communities echoes the legacy of varied oppression. Whilst Western societies congratulate themselves for increasing (but still not universal) tolerance, the impact of its role in the origination of these attitudes must be still acknowledged and reflected on.

The fierceness of the movement in Out, the physical conviction and relentless power reflects an often-unacknowledged strength in difference. It reflects the egregiousness of masculinist and cisnormative dialogues, and the fragility of cultural stereotypes. These different signifiers circle throughout, race and sexuality, bodies and power. Dancing in abandon to dancehall in the opening, a genre that became a musical byword for homophobia in the 1990s, the two performers assert their place in wider culture, the importance of their identities and an affirmation of their selves.  

-       Lewis Church


Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Out - Rachael Young

LGBT Rights in JamaicaEqualdex

Being Black and Gay: The Illusion of InclusionThe Fact Site

 Being Black and LGBT in Britain (2016)Maroon News

Britain Can't Just Reverse the Homophobia It Exported - Guardian

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

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.

LIFTED / Triad Pictures

LIFTED / Triad Pictures

The recent terror attacks in France and Belgium, have assured that Islamophobia is on the rise but it’s Fife that proves the culture battleground for Lifted. Ikram Gilani plays drug dealing secular Scottish Muslim Anwar with humor and intensity and the small hot stage at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall makes the audience genuinely feel part of Anwar's interrogation by invisible forces at Glenrothes Police Station.

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.



There is a crisis in masculinity. Men can no longer be bearded, belching monsters, retreating to their man-caves at the merest whiff of emotion. Women are in charge now, and men now have to stop solving problems with their fists. They have talk to each other. They have to have feelings, damn it.

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.

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 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