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As a staunch advocate for appropriate sexual education for young people, I am ALWAYS excited about theatre that explores this topic. Kids are exposed to sex and sexual pressure at younger and younger ages, and it’s ignorant to believe that our, often-meagre, education offering is enough to help them make informed choices. This is what Charlie Josephine interrogates with their new play, Birds and Bees.
Filmed at the Albany theatre, the camera establishes a school room that is clearly intended to be performed in the round. We are zoomed into the action as Narisha Lawson’s Leilah and Ike Bennett’s Aarron kick off the show at high octane speed. With the audience launched headfirst into their argument and the relative speed of the delivery, the showhits the ground running.
Birds and Bees focuses on the aftermath of an “incident”, as it’s referred to in the show, of the whole school finding out that unseen characters, Jack and Cherelle, have been sexting. Not only that, but Jack has publicly shared explicit photos of Cherelle. The show takes place in detention following a “special assembly” about said incident. Leilah and Aarron, who are quite clearly an item as well as close friends to the couple in question, are stuck with Ida Regan’s Maisey (quickly established as your standard school swot). It’s pretty obvious that these two don’t run in the same social circles as their companion. The three of them are already irate about being in detention anyway, and their combined discomfort and displeasure at being forced to spend time together is palpable.
Our last detention member, EM Williams’s Billy, joins the trio later, having missed the assembly due to their Monday morning therapy. They are a fun breath of Queer air – as they use they/them pronouns, don’t subscribe to the gender binary, and are loudly critical of heteronormative society.
It’s, surprisingly, all very comfortable as Leilah and Billy talk about sex, and Billy talks about their gender identity and how they have great sex despite being neither a girl nor a boy. Then, all of a sudden, the tone tenses up as Aarron menacingly corners Billy, calling them a freak. There’s a visually lovely interjection of what is supposedly Billy’s internal state – a short sequence of flashing colours and quickly shifting camera angles focused on Billy’s face, accompanied by a jarring musical phrase. This becomes a motif that we see for each character throughout the rest of the show. However, that moment of menace ends as abruptly as it started, with Leilah telling Aarron that he is being “a dick”, leaving me a bit off balance.
I find this throughout the show; the pacing is, at times, disorienting. The cast build up tension within the detention room really well, but the tension often seems to grow too quickly for the tone that has been established. The text often repeats aspects of itself but similar character offerings can be met with wildly different reactions all within 48 minutes.
The concept of the show isn’t best served by its short running time; Josephine has chosen a sizeable topic to discuss, and while the show is full of absolutely delicious teasers of these discussions, I’m never given the opportunity to sink my teeth into the main course. Josephine’s writing style is lyrical, punchy and thoroughly enjoyable, but my appetite craves more: more of the aftermath, more of the complexity of these relationships, more space in between the points of tension so deftly created and desperately relevant. What we’re given is so tantalising, I just want more.
Birds and Bees is available to watch online until 21st July. For more information and tickets see Theatre Centre’s website.