By Rachel Thomson
“If you’re reading this, you’re in Bred… We’re an interesting bunch of people. All of us think about sex, all of us talk about sex and there’s a rumour that some of us have actually done it. Tonight is the party of the year and everyone’s invited; from the posh knobs from Upper Crust down to the lost souls in Crumbs. Tonight, everything changes, but remember, once it’s been lost it can’t be found and once it’s stolen it gone.”
I went to London on Friday night, heart in mouth, to see the opening night of Bred, the Tricycle Theatre’s Young Company takeover show exploring sexual attitudes and dilemmas. We had started talking to the Tricycle a long time ago about how we might connect research about teenage sexuality with performance, even using performance itself as a vehicle for new research. The appointment in 2015-2016 of Tom Bowtell as director in residence with the youth company – someone with a background in immersive theatre – provided the impetus for making this happen.
Tom and team came to meet us at Sussex for the day, talking with myself, historian Lucy Robinson who set him right on the recurrent history of ‘moral panics’ about sex and teenagers, Ester McGeeney (now at Brook) who shared her research on ’good sex’ and Elsie Whittington whose co-funded PhD research on sexual consent is co-funded between Brook and the University of Sussex. Ester, Elsie and Alison Robert from Brook subsequently got involved in half term workshops with the young company where they explored ideas from their research, legal issues and professional obligations associated with underage and non/consensual sex as well as facilitating a conversation with parents and carers.
I went with Ester to see a dress rehearsal just a month ago and realised that the team were getting hung up on whether or how they could represent underage sex and how to create a drama out of sex without playing into the language and sentiments of moral panic. How could they show sex as something diverse, ordinary and extraordinary, life changing and banal, funny, silly and potentially dangerous. Something that every generation freaks out about and has to revinvent for themselves? We walked away from rehearsal with our fingers crossed, uncertain that all that confusion, energy and passion could come together into something coherent.
The night began in true promenade style as we were invited to listen into a moving monologue of a trans-teenager as she/he got ready for a night out. Then ushered into the main theatre space we joined what seemed to be a fearless stand-up routine, designed to set the scene of Bred – socially divided by gentrification between the upper crust and the crumbs estate. A game of hilarious sex bingo held the crowd (have you ever flirted with an animal – admit it!) until the whole audience had found its way to the room at which point the ‘party’ began. A combination of freeze-action-monologues, choreographed dance scenes and set pieces between couples and friends allowed us to see something of the hyper-diversity that marks the sexual culture of inner city teens. There is a loud lipstick lesbian who has never kissed a girl, the obsessed, the horny, the asexual, the heartbroken, the proud virgin and the virgin desperate to lose it. We find out about the ways in which couples and friendships can be at odds with each other, and how we may only know what we feel when we have ruined everything. We also discover something about gender, that girls can pressure boys into sex and that not all boys are gagging for it.
The law appears as a key player at the end of the play when the audience is asked to choose the fate of Wolf who is at risk of becoming a sexual offender having had her way with a 15 year old boy worse the wear for drink. The audience feels put on the spot, what is the ‘right’ thing to do in these post-Saville sensitive times. The majority decision to ‘report her’ triggers two films with the two protagonists-as-adults reflecting on how this had been a critical moment in their lives.
Somehow they managed to bring it all together into an entertaining show – capturing the contradictory nature of teenage culture torn between experiment and censoriousness, pleasure seeking and fear. The law matters in lots of strange ways, as something we can take hold of and use to support our decisions – as something to disregard or as something with agency in itself that can change the course of our lives and of others.
Bred is a performance by the Tricycle Theatre 15-18 yrs Young Company on 17 – 19 March 2016, 7pm. Devised by the 15-18’s Tricycle Young Company, Bred is inspired by factual research into the sex lives of teenagers.