‘Bottom rights!’ – Carly Rae Jepsen
Willy Hudson’s Bottom is as sweet as the chocolate spread used within it to represent something probably pretty obvious. Foremost weapon in the arsenal of this one-man show (a queer theatrical tradition in itself) is his sheer likeability; as an hour spent in the warmth of one personality, you could do a lot worse than Hudson and his sex- (and non-sex) related woes.
“Thank you for letting me down,” he hisses at his dick. It’s not working. His hiding in his own bathroom during a third Tinder date with a man who seems to also be a bottom is punctuated with detail filling in the rest of his life and just who Hudson is: Beyoncé devotee. From Exeter originally. Working four jobs. Looking for love. A bottom?
It’s likely only the most sheltered of straight people will learn something about gay sex here, despite the producing of an enema bulb and a brief foray into handkerchief code, but that’s alright. The focus here is on Hudson’s position, which means a lot more than just his positioning. We’re a springboard for him to bounce his smiley trepidation off: he dresses himself in clothes from under the chairs of certain audience members, then comes to sit amongst us to play a ukulele (as it’s not a fringe show without it, he points out). He asks our favourite Bey songs and shows us how, from that, you can make a call if someone’s a top or bottom. Maybe.
Though Bottom’s title might seem like an answer to Hudson’s attempt to find out exactly what role he’s meant to or can fulfill, Hudson pushes his scope wider, to take in stealthing, the intrusive questioning of his self-professed “fag hag” boss, the way ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ have become both ubiquitous and often too limited as definitions, a reliance on what porn portrays as healthy sex, and his lack of a sober sexual history. In short, the arbitrariness of what we expect young gay people to have instantly figured out, before they even come out, it seems.
In Bottom, Hudson wants to see himself properly, clearly, and yet not have what he sees be instantly discernible and in some way dismissed by others. He’s such a disarming presence that we’re happy to bear witness to his periodic check-ins with himself on his self-esteem, his love for Beyoncé, and his quest for love. His control over his quite tremulous tone makes him sound younger than twenty-seven, as does his phrasing – glimpsing his idiosyncrasies in this way make for the play’s best moments. He remembers sex in the past which took place while “drunk and smashed up,” the point at which he “moved this bottom to London,” carefully explains to us that he took “ketamine, which is a horse tranquilliser” and notes his magazine collection “isn’t really for touching.”
Bottom almost has it all, but still feels a little tentative. It’s not quite as messy, physical or even worrying as it seems to threaten to become (especially as Bryony Kimmings was involved as dramaturg). A mannequin representation of Hudson’s own bottom (at times lit up with a wavering line of blue light, like a hazard) is dismantled, covered in chocolate spread, and shortly put back together again. There’s no real punch to the anxious climax to ‘Love On Top’ as a few elements (his summoning TEXT ME dance towards his own phone, held for him by an audience member, interjections from his wall of Beyoncé posters, the audio of a question and answers about what it feels like inside an ass) aren’t repeated often enough to build a real sense of rhythm. It seems as if a smaller space might suit Bottom better; Hudson floats through it without a great sense of urgency or direction. Though my instinct is that this Bottom could have been pushed a little further, the sweet and sadnesses here are enough for Hudson to be proud of.
Bottom is at Soho Theatre until 5th January. More info here.