Reviews Manchester Published 9 October 2015

Under the Covers

Contact Theatre ⋄ 7th - 10th October 2015

Fucking alive.

James Varney
Under the Covers: talking about sex in a new way

Under the Covers: talking about sex in a new way

Under the Covers doesn’t beat about the bush. Hello, we’re Contact’s Young Company, we’ve been talking about sex, we’re going to talk to you about sex. Here we go. *cue lipsynching* And they just get on with it. This is the second outing of Under the Covers, after being part of SICK! Festival in Manchester six months ago (and selling out) – and it feels like they finished making it this morning. By which I mean it’s fucking alive.

The show was created by the company, with director Stacy Makishi and assistant director Nathaniel Hall, in response to the Wellcome Collection exhibition, The Institute of Sexology, through a series of workshops with different performance practitioners and sexperts. And the process behind this show is felt in its performance. I don’t mean we’re told and shown endlessly how and why what’s in front of us is happening, but you can feel the learning and bonding processes that have lead to this show. We’re able to trust where it’s come from without needing to fully know where that is.

It’s dramaturgically and personally very satisfying to feel that the young performers in this show have taken as much from each other as they’ve given in. It’s no secret that sex education in this country is in a dire state. I went to a Catholic secondary school in Derby, where I learned more about the joys of abstinence than how to have a good time with my clothes off. Which is a problem because it means that too many people have an abjectly miserable time with their clothes off.

From what I’ve seen in this show, and the post show Q&A, making this piece of theatre has been an incredible learning process and I am now thoroughly convinced that we should begin delivering sex education in this way. Like, take the show and workshops on tour – repair some of the awful Sex Ed programmes in this country. There’s a section in the show where the women in the cast talk about orgasms – who’s had one, who’s not, who’s tried. One cast member revealed she’d had her first orgasm as a result of experimentation after making this show – and the audience burst into applause. This production has unambiguously changed its performers’ lives – and isn’t that a fucking powerful thing?

I think it’s definitely as a result of this being a Young Company, full of youfs, that Under The Covers so effortlessly tear up dramatic conventions left right and centre. There is a beautiful moment where one of the performers drops her character and tells the audience she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to us unless she’s putting on a character. The whole show embraces honesty so fully – which, you know, is massively missing from the way we talk and teach about sex. And what’s more, as a result you get this community built on catharsis – an ‘I’m Spartacus’ declaration against sexual repression, active hope.

What I find really refreshing about this show is how self-aware, how live it is. I’m convinced half of the lines in the show are improvised or ad-libbed and if they weren’t then fair play to the company for convincing me. Cast members chipped in and out, the audience laughed, clapped, and were played to, which I loved (because audiences are there – where’s the shame in acknowledging them?)

And there were some bloody lovely images throughout – mixed in with storytelling, dance, poetry, caricature. And it takes on so much and never once feels like it is overstretching itself, because it is all true to its performers – and there was a whole world of stuff that goes unmentioned. But what is there is coherent and comprehensive and truthful and, in a big way, radical. Young People aren’t supposed to know about sex – they’re not supposed to think about it and talk about it and they’re definitely not supposed to make theatre about it.

The show isn’t cohesive – far from it – but neither are the cast and the cast made the bloody thing. Who needs cohesion in theatre? It’d be a massive lie to suggest you got a crowd of eighteen Young People and they suddenly blended into a perfect hivemind. And it shows in the performance that the cast are all totally different people. All the performers – all the audience – are in that room at the end of all the holes society has punched in our knowledge and vocabulary around sex. The performers plunged into that hole for us. Under the Covers filled more than a few holes, in its process, in its performance and, hopefully, in the life it has to come.


James Varney

James is a writer and theatre maker, based in the middle parts of England. He has created work with Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lenni Sanders and had work presented at Derby Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Manchester Literature Festival, Live at LICA and Camden People’s Theatre. James enjoys Peanut Butter, DIY Punk and Long Walks On The Beach.

Under the Covers Show Info

Directed by Stacy Makishi

Written by Contact Young Company

Cast includes Contact Young Company




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