Interview: Bryony Kimmings, Sex idiot

© Rob Greig
Posted: Fri Mar 18 2011

Bryony Kimmings's sex-infection smash 'Sex Idiot' arrives at Soho Theatre in April. Andrzej Lukowski finds a surprisingly charming show.

Two years ago, live artist and cabaret performer Bryony Kimmings discovered she'd caught chlamydia - and was determined to find out which of her former partners had given it to her. Thus was born 'Sex Idiot', Kimmings's song, dance and costume change-heavy one-woman account of that quest. It's a ridiculous idea and it's a ridiculous show, featuring, as it does, a version of Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' with the lyrics replaced by euphemisms for the vagina and one quite astounding request for audience participation (more of which later). But it's also incredibly funny, blissfully surreal and surprisingly romantic, and was a deserved hit at last year's Edinburgh Fringe.

Why did you decide to make a show like this?
'I'd just finished running [cabaret night] Celebrityville and I genuinely didn't think I was going to make any more work. But then I got persuaded to sign up for this little grant that gives you a bit of money to go away and research what you might want to do, and I just happened to be going through the whole STI thing at the time. I'd also just watched 'Broken Flowers' [in which Bill Murray's character tracks down former lovers to find out which is the mother of his son] and I ripped off that idea. I thought: What would happen if I did that? It could be awful or it could be really good, I'm not going to lose anything. After a week working on it I thought: There's something deranged about all this, but I like it.'

Would you have been so free talking about your STI if you hadn't made the show?
'Probably. As soon as I got it I thought: Oh, this is really gross, what a dick, what a slag, and then loads of my friends were like, “Yeah, I've had it,” and I was like, “Oh my God, everyone's had it and nobody's ever mentioned it before! Why?” It's weird that everyone would be so funny about it: everyone knows everyone's having sex.'

How did you actually go about devising the show?
'The name came first. I said to somebody, “Oh God, I'm such a sex idiot!” and my friend was like, “That has to be the name of the show.” And then the text, “Bryony Kimmings is 29, last year she got an STI” - that also came along easily. After that, I knew it was going to be a series of dances and performances. But because I'd been making cabaret I'm not a person who writes narrative, so I ended up with lots of little things. I thought: Oh, let's just put them all in a row without explaining anything. But that didn't work, it just came across like I was mad; shorter explanations in between sections did work and it came together.'

What do you think audiences get out of it?
'Overall, I wanted people to feel liberated. I don't like art therapy work but I quite like the way that my piece is so close to that that it feels a bit like it teeters on the edge and makes it a bit awkward for the audience. There's something about embarrassment and embarrassing people that I'm happy and comfortable with.'

How do your exes feel about it?
'Not many have come to see it, funnily enough! Some of them absolutely do not want to. Some were like, “Do not mention me.” Some were like, “Mention me! Mention me!” The ones that didn't want
to talk about it aren't in the show.'

The show culminates in you calling for donations of pubic hair from the audience so you can make a false moustache in tribute to your current boyfriend. Is he okay with that?
'When I got back from Edinburgh he dumped me! Now when I perform it I still do it exactly the same, only now I'm not with him. I was going to mention it on stage, but then I thought: I can't go through with that. It's quite emotional the way I make work, I generally go and listen to Kate Bush and cry for two hours and then make something. Anyway, he knows he's in it, he knows I haven't changed it, but I don't think he ever 100 per cent agreed with me doing it!'

Are audiences surprised that, despite everything, 'Sex Idiot' is quite sweet - almost romantic?
'Somebody asked me about the pubes, like, “How dare you do that?” and I kind of think to myself: That doesn't embarrass me at all and I don't think it's weird. I think that scene works through a mixture of intimacy, embarrassment, romance - because it was about somebody I was in love with - and the idea that it's the audience and me, together. But it gets people talking about the show and then, at the end, lots of them have come up to me and said, “It's not just about the pubes, is it?”'