I won’t play down how I excited I was to review this show. I saw The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’s previous work, Notorious, at the Birmingham Rep in 2017, and I became so obsessed with her distortion of womanhood and witchery that I based several of my university third-year assignments on body fluids in performance.
Notorious was the most audacious thing I had ever seen at that point. Holstein put objects inside her vagina, took them out, put them in her mouth, back in her vagina. The show ended with a giant pile of piss-soaked popping candy. Using explicit content as dramaturgical fodder, she shocks, repulses, and awe-inspires with her work.
Then… I hear that she is making a show with the Yard’s Young Company. About sex.
The copy on the website reads:
This is not the work that usually gets made with young people.
This might get uncomfortable.
Oh my god? What is going to happen?
As the audience take their seats, the young company are constructing and rearranging a junkyard shrine. Adorned with clothes, plastic bags, teddy bears, toys, fairy lights, all the contents of a teenage wardrobe floor. Every 20 seconds or so, a school bell rings. It could be an alarm bell? It serves the same function, I think. Sex feels urgent and intrusive in every product, image and packet in Lauren Dix’s design.
The show begins with the company folding their own bodies into the shrine, under layers of gauze, huddled under piles of rubbish holding little electronic tea lights. Holstein is a genius at creating images laden with meaning and beauty and just hanging them in front of you as you breathe.
The first episode of Friends plays from a phone clutched in one performer’s hands
‘And I just won a million dollars!’ cries a tinny Chandler
OH BABY BABY
Of course we’ve got to have Britney. In this show that already exists on the risky parameter between appropriate and explicit, who is more fitting than the pop icon in school uniform herself? The shrine, and the show, collages the ways in which sex is packaged, storyboarded, sold. It’s in H&M, in sitcoms, in teen idols who are simultaneously eternally young and automatically sexually available. I know that the performers in Really Real Teenz! are between the ages of 15 and 19, but I’m not sure how old they are exactly, and it affects how I watch. I feel a slight tension as they crawl on the floor. I think Britney could be 14 or 22 in her sexy schoolgirl getup.
Really Real Teenz! takes this phenomenon of squeaky-clean-packaged-sexy-capitalist-teen-idol-fest and ties it inextricably to the grotesque, the sticky and putrid. And by doing so, power is transferred back to the young people. The company launch into a full blown dance routine to Hit Me Baby…, in paper-bubble-wrap punk schoolgirl outfits. Then they slap their thighs and burst blood-filled balloons, claiming the stage with their mess.
When the dance finishes, they tell each other what they’d like to do.
I want to very slowly cut out your tongue and eat it
I’d like to surgically remove your body and place it on mine
Sex is packaged, assembly-lined, violent and clinical.
They tumble over each other, rolling through intimate positions and choreographed gymnastics, spouting confessions and desires towards each other, towards celebrities, towards icons. The young performers are poised astonishingly; they don’t flinch when they make eye contact with the audience. They seem so completely AWARE. One performer spends 10 minutes destructing a watermelon with relish and a completely straight face. Pummelling it, squeezing the pulp through their fingers, pouring the juice over her face.
Another performer reaches for her bumbag. A raw fish pops out. She guts the fish, opens up its insides and masturbates a make-shift fish-skin vagina, before folding it back up, forcing the guts back down the throat and masturbating a re-pulped fish penis, with a glorious fish-gut re-ejaculation.
Really Real Teenz! is audacious and funny, toe-curlingly repulsive and, at some points, eerily calm. The cast sit huddled in a row, and spout sexual confessions, contradictions.
I am a virgin. I am also a whore.
I’m a civil rights activist. I am also Kanye West.
I am a banana but I eat cut glass for breakfast.
Above all, it is joyous.
By the end, Lauren Woodhead’s lighting glows with purple LEDs and pulsing sidelights, as the company dances with everything they have, without routine, with recklessness and heart. It’s utterly, utterly joyous. Everything I hoped it would be. Such a sophisticated, poised, yet completely chaotic ode to the strength and sexuality of young people.
Really Real Teenz is on at the Yard Theatre till 14th March. More info here.