Writer and performer Rachel Mars wants to show us that sex isn’t new, and queer desire has been around for much longer than we might assume. James Joyce had a fetish for farts and Eleanor Roosevelt had an erotic love affair with a woman. We don’t necessarily learn this from the history books but rather from the handwritten letters leftbehind, the old-fashioned form of the modern-day sext. Through a lecture-style performance – footnotes included – Mars highlights a striking lack of eroticism in contemporary sexting, showing us that we could maybe learn a thing or two from the generations before us.
There’s a real joy in the revelations of these sexual fantasies and desires. Some of the letters are pure filth, with matters such as masturbation, kink and queer sexuality all seeping in to a history that feels undiscussed. Nowadays, our most intimate exchanges are pinged across a dating app or digital messaging provider, typed away on a keyboard in depersonalised fonts. No longer can you read the sender from the curls and joints of their penmanship, or the way they dot their i’s or dash their t’s. Between the letter readings, Mars displays on a screen some sexting snapshots, many of which are misperceived and become totally unerotic. What struggles in Mars’s form of the show is that the reading becomes tiresome because it lacks the intimate engagement that the letter-writing itself is able to offer. The intimacy that is produced hangs in the letters between the sender and receiver. When a stranger reads the letters to another set of strangers, the effect is lost.
The most engaging parts of the show are when Mars reads her own messages between herself and a partner, but this doesn’t do much as a show on its own. In an age where younger people are suuposedly having less sex then ever before, there’s definitely something to be said about a lack of sexual desire in a digital age, and the piece certainly emphasises that. But once it makes its point, the rest of the show becomes a tad tedious. It celebrates historical queer existence, and this is a most welcome discovery, but one that doesn’t feel celebrated enough in this particular show to justify it.
Even the set is a little dull: a desk at the back with a laptop positioned centrally, a string of footnotes that appear projected onto a screen. There’s a contrast between the naughtiness of the letters and the mundanity of the space that Mars occupies. Perhaps the style itself is a comment on the lack of excitement in contemporary sexting, but it becomes an effort to commit to and I’m not sold on it.
Your Sexts are Shit: Older Better Letters played Summerhall until 25 August. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.