London's newest (and deepest) theatre opens with this witty drama about a young woman's excruciating sexual adventures
It’s apt that London’s newest theatre, The Bunker, stylishly converted from an underground car park in Southwark, loses its virginity with a play about a girl trying to lose her virginity. Not in a ‘I gotta get laid before college’ fratboy ‘American Pie’ kind of way. Instead, Alana has a sensitive problem - or, rather, a sensitivity problem - down below, to the extent that she experiences unbearable pain if she (or anyone else) tries to insert something into her.
Given how upfront Isley Lynn’s play is about vaginas, about the residue left on sanitary pads after a period, about toe-curlingly clumsy, fumbling adolescent sex, it’s natural that it provokes plenty of nervous titters. But beyond its silly and plentiful humour is a genuinely moving and effortlessly charming production.
In the middle of the stage is a messy double bed on which - kneeling, lying, writhing around - Lydia Larson’s endearing Alana tells her story, her expressive face silently commenting on the scenes she plays out as she tosses wry little glances to the audience. Two other performers, Jessica Clark and Jassa Ahluwalia, chip in as they play the various characters in Alana’s life. Clark is particularly good as Alana’s terse and awkward mother offering, with intense embarrassment, useless advice about the reproductive system.
What Lynn’s play really penetrates is the way we define sex, reducing it to simple ins and outs, shaming people who don’t do it ‘right’. Alana’s made to feel, from puberty to post-uni life, that sex isn’t sex if there’s no vaginal penetration. That may sound like a rather biological way of putting it, but Lynn deliberately blurs the line between the clinical and the erotic. It’s born out in Blythe Stewart’s intelligent direction too, which gently abstracts the several sex scenes by using gestures and facial expressions instead of simulated action.
The Bunker’s ethos is about building an experience around the show. We’re invited to pitch up early and stay late. It ticks all the boxes for a trendy pop-up venue: slightly uncomfortable seats, craft beer etc. But it’s a versatile studio space and, as far as its theatre programming is concerned, this is one hell of a start. Wise and educational and funny, it really hits the spot.