Brighton Fringe 2023
Bad sex is endemic, part of the imbalance of power in our society, says the American feminist, author, lawyer and activist, Catherine McKinnon, although she says it in a more structured academic way. Raina Greifer suggests the same but through example, story-telling, personal experience, comedy and confession with a smattering of musical theatre and some entirely justified puppetry – and some quotes from Catherine McKinnon .
Manic is less manic than the title would suggest. In fact, for the things it deals with it’s surprisingly levelheaded and, well, funny, with deeper darker moments. Possibly it’s the sheer banality of bad sex as perpetrated by the male that is the most offensive event before we get to any issues of violence and rape.
The puppets, varied and surreal, turn up as the bad actors in sex, the males of the species and the stories behind them all are both hilarious and heart-rending.
Anchored by the thought that a society such as ours mitigates against equality in sex because there is no proper equality, there’s a savage structural imbalance of power between male and female. She lays bare the expectations that her younger self had at 16 and 17, based on a whole host of constructions and seeming norms that make the possibility of a relationship of equals, from a position of need and just being a girl, almost impossible. It’s where her quotation from Catherine McKinnon is repeated – “To seek an equal sexuality without political transformation is to seek equality under conditions of inequality”. Where there is no equality in power, consent is always compromised or impossible (my paraphrasing) .
From where they started was it actually not possible to have good sex with informed consent – and if so why not? It all seems so predetermined. One of the male partners was a good friend, but that didn’t make the sex any better. The trading of sex for being liked is a very unequal trade. This all sounds a bit dry and theoretical, but show is definitely, most emphatically, not dry or theoretical.
It’s all done with verve and feeling and questioning. The enactments of the conversations with the various male partners were funny in themselves but just demonstrated that if you can’t talk to someone as an equal, the sex is going to be worse. The story of her lost virginity with a stoner guy whose actual words were difficult to understand they were drawled out so slow (tellingly he didn’t really talk in sentences), set against Raina’s attempts to actually communicate, was painful as well as humorous. Significantly he was the one who ghosted her after their first unpleasant sexual encounter.
Then there’s the guy she worked with who always plied her with drinks, so many drinks that sometimes she passed out. We’re in what our society deems grey areas of consent arising from being drunk, but I think that Raina suggests that “grey area” is just a fudge. There is no consent if you’re not actively conscious. It’s a grim game.
The show begins with a light and teasing riff on being a spoken word poet, a slightly intentionally shambolic introduction that veers into a confessional and personal history with pictures and PowerPoint, music and audience participation. Raina keeps the show and the narrative moving and changing, the audience is always engaged. I went expecting something harrowing (and there were moments) but this is a joyful as well as thoughtful piece of theatre, well worth seeing.