Verbatim theatre, usually sharing the thoughts of people interviewed prior to the production in their own words, undoubtedly works best when the topic in hand is universal. And few things are more universal than sex. Tonight at Spill, a devised production from theatre company Propolis Theatre, nothing is taboo and nothing is off limits. They take us through the highs and lows, fantasies and realities and breakthroughs and struggles of puberty, peer pressure, virginity (and the losing of), screwing or love-making, homosexuality, transgender, asexuality, pansexuality, fetishes – and managing to live through all of the above.
Set within the rhythmic beat of a house party (or “sex party”) the performers embody, to their credit, an unbelievably diverse range of ‘guests’. Their material, taken from thirty-two people over the course of twenty interviews, represents heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, asexual and pansexual viewpoints, amongst others. The actors step out of the party atmosphere (while the others maintain a sustained and frenetic energy around them) to convey real-life secrets, desires and experiences. At times these are hilarious, as we all know sex can be, but the show has the ability to segue seamlessly into heartfelt moments of tenderness; the good goes hand-in-hand with the bad and they are not afraid to admit it.
Spill is very much an ensemble effort, with some wonderful direction from Maisie Newman helping the actors to move along at a fast and fluid pace, sometimes larger than life but never caricaturesque or farcical. But the production never loses a sense of identity (or rather identities); through the range of perspectives on show tonight, the cast reveal how individualism can and should flourish in the contexts of universal experience.
With a young cast and a deliberately instilled sense of youth to the show, Spill runs the risk of perhaps going over the heads of some of those in the audience whose experiences of establishing a sexual identity in today’s carnal minefield have been dulled by the passing of years. Hopefully the same people (if there are any) can recognise that it is exactly the production’s youthfulness that is what makes it so exciting. Once again young people are talking about sex, but here the conversation is absent of naivety and inexperience; instead it is wizened to the dangers of sexual suppression as well as over-sexualisation. Spill not only opens the discussion on sex but actively calls for reform on how society approaches the topic. One feels that if there had been more shows like this throughout history then Frank Wedekind would have had a lot less to write about.
Here is theatre at its most important: revelatory, witty and didactic without ever sermonising. Spill is a refreshing and entertaining effort that bares more than flesh and manages to deliver wholeheartedly on its promise to gratify, celebrate and confront the topic that the world can’t stop not talking about. A must-see at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
Spill is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 12 June. For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website. Photo: Paul Blakemore