Until Friday night, the most memorable free gift I’d taken home from a theatre was a mini packet of Love Hearts courtesy of Kneehigh’s Tristan and Yseult. Fran Bushe’s Ad Libido takes a less PG-certificate approach to theatre goodie bags, shunning Swizzles Matlow in favour of free lube. And this isn’t just any lube [apparently – I haven’t tried it, I’m just sitting here staring at the packaging, faintly mesmerised by the cringe-inducing web address www.yesyesyes.org printed on it]. This is organic lube. The Ocado delivery of lube. Water-based personal lubricant (condom compatible) and plant-oil based personal lubricant (NOT condom compatible); you get two sachets in a turquoise organza bag to take home with you, plus a leaflet about vaginal dilator kits, discrete (ssshhh!) vibrators and pelvic floor muscle weights (I still can’t quite work out how these, well, work. They look scary).
Would I have preferred a packet of Palma Violets? I’m not sure. I think quite possibly yes, although I very much appreciate Bushe’s no nonsense approach to Sex Ed in theory. Ad Libido is based on the performer and writer’s personal experience of problems relating to sex, specifically pain during intercourse, vaginal dryness and a lack of desire. During the show, she refers to these conditions using the term Female Sexual Dysfunction.
The publicity for the show also uses this term, and quotes a statistic claiming that at least 43% of women are affected by this condition. I found this statistic remarkable when I first read it in the press release. A quick Google reveals that I’m not the only one to have questions about it. Both the term itself and, in particular, this stat are the subject of substantial debate (the stat because of sample size and the questions participants answered; the condition because of potential vested interests of pharmaceutical companies). If you want to read more, there’s a BMJ article on the topic here and you can read the original article here.
For the purposes of reviewing Ad Libido as a piece of theatre, these debates aren’t all that relevant. The real point is that Bushe experiences sex in a certain way and wants to experience it in another – the term stamped on that by health care professionals doesn’t really affect that. One step towards her goal of ‘fixing sex’ is to perform this show. Lizzie Leech’s design has the stage set up similarly to a kid’s birthday party (Love Hearts, as it happens, wouldn’t be all that out of place), with helium balloons and lots of gold streamers. Bushe bounds around the space in a pair of sky blue dungarees and, eventually, a dolphin onesie.
The aim, I think, is to make a difficult topic easier to discuss by making this a happy, fun and funny place to be in. Along with reading out extracts from her teenage diary, she sings a series of comic songs about shagging, vaginas and the sex camp she visited. Those dolphins get a good few mentions, and we view an OHP image of a Sharpie-drawn vagina, on to which she adds a sombrero, a camel and cactus to show that it is ‘dry, dry, dry’.
Theatre is quite similar to sex – as, for that matter, is humour. What gets one person going leaves another totally cold (or indeed, ‘dry, dry, dry’). Bushe comes across an incredibly likeable person and her ethos of ‘let’s talk more openly about sex’ is one I applaud, and share. The ending to the show is full of honesty, complexity and a nice refusal to neatly tie up narrative strands when they don’t, in reality, tie up. The problem, likely, lies with me, not her. In that instead of finding this format freeing, I think the idea of talking about sex with a woman in a dolphin suit or bouncing around in dungarees is utterly off-putting. Like chatting about blowjobs with a Blue Peter presenter. Truthfully, this show just didn’t do it for me – but I imagine it will for many others, who will find it hilarious and disinhibiting.
So now I’m just going to sit here a little longer debating the logistics of opening a sachet of lube right when it’s needed. Nail scissors? Teeth? A compass point? Who knows.
Ad libido was performed as part of Vault Festival 2018. Click here for more details.