‘I’m warning you now, Jane, if there is any remote inkling of audience participation, I’m out of there. And no seething.’ So said my friend Rachel with a steely stare as we drove off to Taunton for one of our rare ‘evenings of culture’. Last time it had been the play Glass Eels, with absolutely loads of seething and writhing in, around and amidst the withy beds and rhines of Sedgemoor. Water had flooded the stage as the pent-up lust of the protagonists had oozed all over the show. We weren’t madly impressed. This time (my choice again, so no pressure there) we were off to see Derevo (Russian for ‘tree’ or so the programme said) in something called Ketzal. The troupe was founded in St Petersburg in 1988 and adhere to a ‘rigorous aesthetic derived from Japan’s postwar performance style of butoh’. The blurb went on to say, ‘Wiry and shaven-headed, the company members lead lives of monastic theatricality at their base in Dresden.’
It sounded suitably austere, suitably non-sexual. No seething here, no siree.
As I came back from the loo I spotted a notice that read something along the lines of:
There will be loud noises.
There will be flashing lights.
There will be scenes of a sexual nature.
There will be semi-nudity.’
Rachel looked at me, looked at the notice and raised an eyebrow. We trooped in, following the usual Brewhouse crowd which tends to be middle-class to a woman, all tweedy elderlies and arty middle-ageds wearing ‘interesting scarves and jewellery’ and either cropped or flowing hair; a few sullen teenagers; the odd precocious child.
We were halfway up the stairs when Rachel tugged my arm.
‘Oh my God, look at that..’
There was a man tumbling over the seats, over people, clasping a large plastic black bin-liner. Suddenly he stopped, lunged and thrust the liner over an unsuspecting man’s head, bundled him up and bustled him off.
Poor Rachel looked desperately around but there was no way out.
‘Please don’t let him see me,’ she hissed as we sat in our seats trying to look as small and inconspicuous as we possibly could.
It was absolutely incredible. Six performers – three men, three women (though I only realised that three of them were women about half-way through – and this even given the fact that they were all topless and wearing only some sort of nappies or thongs). There was writhing (lots). There was seething (tons). There were births and deaths and sex and God knows what really – including a very realistic elephant, whirling dervishes, spinning gonks and a man with a large arm instead of a penis.
I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was about – apparently it’s a ‘déjà vu of the body’ which tells you….well, nothing really. Except that you will never see bodies like that; or images of raw gut-clenching beauty like that. Or be shocked and amused and horrified and scared all in the same 90 minutes. Oh, and there was water too. Obviously the Brewhouse have a bit of a thing about the fact they can flood their stage – because it started with drips, flashing jewel-like in the incredible lighting and they ended up sliding and (yes) writhing and seething in it, like aquatic creatures from the primordial slime. Then smashing and crashing it so it flew up in sheets and drenched the front rows.
Several tweedies walked out, sniffing with horror. The precocious children looked a little shaken. Rachel and I shot out as they took their final bows before they got any ideas about bundling us up into bags and taking us back to Dresden to become sinewy seething monks.
‘What about the bit where they were all born like a rope of babies?’ said Rachel on the way back. ‘That was pretty disturbing..’
But nowhere near as disturbing as the conversation I had with James a couple of nights later.
It was Friday night, the night before his birthday and I was sitting on his bed, wistfully remembering when he was born.
‘What were you doing this time nine years ago, Mum?’
‘Watching Lowri Turner in Musgrove hospital, if I recall.’
‘How big were you?’
‘Oh, vast…..out here…’ indicating an improbable distance from my stomach.
‘Wow. And how big was Daddy?’
Hmm. I had a bad feeling about where this was going and had to resist the urge to say ‘never mind’ and tuck him up and scarper.
‘Well.’ Long pause. ‘Men don’t get pregnant.’
‘So what’s their bit in having a baby?’
No, this so wasn’t fair. We’d agreed – five years ago – that Adrian was going to have this conversation when it came up.
‘Is it……?’ He pointed downwards with a grin. ‘Willies.’
‘Yup,’ I said firmly. ‘It’s willies.’
Hopefully that was it. But no. A look of focused determination came over his face.
‘So does the man put his willy in the woman’s belly button.’
‘Er, no. Bit further down really.’
Pointing vaguely and feeling my face start to burn bright red. Remembering all the books I’d read that said you should call a spade a spade and well…..
‘Vagina. It goes in the vagina. You know? You did vaginas at school, didn’t you?’
A look of shocked amazement mixed with total glee that he had information that would doubtless whiz round the playground come Monday.
‘Eeeuw, that’s disgusting. Does it hurt?’
‘Er, no. It’s rather nice actually.’
Then, realising I had a parental duty here to avoid teenage pregnancies, ‘But of course it’s something you don’t do until you’ve left school and are with someone you love and want to stay with for ages.’ Which sounded unconvincing even to me.
‘Eeeuw. You had Daddy’s hairy old willy in your vagonie? That’s disgusting.’
‘It’s not hairy.’
How did this happen? How did I manage to find myself discussing Adrian’s penis and our sex life with our nearly-nine-year old son? This was so wrong. Heck, we’d get into writhing and seething next.
‘But Daddy said that when boys get older they get hairy.’
Eh? So he’s got that far but hadn’t carried it through? I could have murdered him.
So I had to explain how some bits got hairy and some didn’t and then James started giggling his head off and going into flights of fancy about hairy bottoms and hairy poos and thank heavens it all dissipated and I was able to say goodnight and escape downstairs to drown myself in cognac.
It was obviously in the air, all this seething sex. So I’ve told Rachel that she can pick the next cultural outing – and meanwhile I’m going to buy James a nice book that explains all the ins and outs, hairy and non-hairy bits. From now on this is a non-seething house.