Browse reviews

Brighton Fringe 2024

Low Down

It started as a simple boy and girl thing.


Zach and Emily are classmates, teenagers in the same school, coming up towards their GCSEs.

And they fancy each other.   Why not?  Emily’s lovely, and Zach seems like a thoughtful kind of boy, not loud and leery like some of his mates.    So they make a date for Friday night: Zach will go over to Emily’s house while her parents are out for the evening, and – hopefully, tentatively – they will end up having sex.


But they are both virgins, with almost no idea of how to actually DO it.   


The school, understaffed as so many in these cash-strapped times, has shunted off the sex-education module to an inexperienced teaching assistant.  She’s completely unable to control a group that includes a lot of testosterone-filled boys, and the session descends into chaos, leaving her incredibly stressed.  Afterwards, when Emily approaches her for some advice about her forthcoming tryst, the woman just dismisses her questions; won’t even start to have a conversation with the girl.

So Emily doesn’t get the information she needs, while Zach’s getting his by watching porn on the internet with his mates.   Not that he’s addicted to porn, but when his mates are sharing it on their smartphones – really gross stuff, it seems, involving women and horses – he can’t help but watch the videos along with the others.  Peer pressure demands it.

Friday evening, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a bit of a disaster.  Well, a disappointment at least.   It seems that they didn’t get anywhere – nothing actually happened – but they are both too shy and embarrassed to talk about it to each other.   

Or to their friends.   But nature abhors a vacuum, and both Emily’s and Zach’s friends put their own interpretations on the event – Emily’s in particular take her silence as an indication that she had been abused or assaulted in some way.   Zach’s mates convince themselves that he’s no longer a virgin, and the lad is too embarrassed to admit to the night’s sexual failure.

And so the juggernaut of rumour begins to roll.   Speculations get more graphic and outrageous as they are spread – by word of mouth, by texts and by Instagram.  We are social creatures – primates who evolved living in groups, and we’ve always shared gossip.  The difference nowadays is that technology has accelerated the process to an almost unimaginable degree.    Name-calling in the classroom, and accusations of assault, lead Zach to storm out of school, and Emily to absent herself from her exams.  Almost inevitably, the episode culminates in violence, with Zach badly beaten up by Emily’s ‘defenders’ – the event being videoed on someone’s smartphone (of course) and widely shared across the young people’s social media.

This sad little play took about twenty minutes, and it was acted out for the Friends’ Meeting House audience by the young people who are Angela el-Zeind’s students.   Young people from Northbrook College and Thirdspace  (along with a couple of older participants).  They gave a really spirited performance, so I’m going to name-check them all.  

Drew Biggs, Maia Letamendia Moore, Sarah Widdas, Zoe Alexander, Robert McCloskey, Fin Rees, Ruby Kelly-Hawkins, Oceana Bertino-Kavadellas and Kevin Cherry.  

Angela is a practitioner of ‘Forum Theatre’, and she directed the show as well as being an incredibly effective moderator of the activities and discussion that followed the piece.

The idea of Forum Theatre is to present a situation to an audience, as a short play, and then for the audience members to discuss the issues raised.   But the special feature of the Forum medium is that the viewers can replay sections of the action that they consider to be critical moments in the story, and decide to alter the narrative to see if it produces a different outcome.

So Forum Theatre is part performance, part workshop, part discussion… The concept started in South America, addressing political choices in Chile, but in Angela el-Zeind’s hands, ‘Un/Dressed’ provides a raw and unapologetic exploration of the challenges young people face in their relationships, and how seemingly innocent actions can spiral into an accusation of assault.

Through these forum theatre techniques, the audience was encouraged to identify issues and discuss them, stepping into the shoes of the characters, offering insights and solutions to the challenges presented onstage. This interactive approach transformed what would normally be passive viewers into engaged participants, fostering empathy and dialogue around some of the most crucial issues affecting young people today.

There was so much to discuss and role-play.  How should the teacher have responded to Emily?  This led on to a consideration of how much sexual discussion it’s appropriate for a teacher to have with a pupil – of the power imbalance present in such a talk, and the need for teachers to protect themselves against possible accusations of grooming. 

Several audience members also talked about the sex education lessons themselves – how the curriculum focuses solely on the negative, on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, while ignoring sexuality, pleasure and the joys of physical closeness.

And what about the parents?  Should Zach’s and Emily’s parents have taken a more involved interest in their children’s relationships?  Some of these parts of the play were re-enected, and el-Zeind invited several audience members onto the stage to provide alternative outcomes .

Pornography, and especially pervasively-shared internet pornography, obviously plays a devastating role in young people’s lives – but of course it wouldn’t be spread so intensely if it wasn’t for the peer pressure that makes no young person want to feel left out of the group.    Peer pressure – it’s built into our psyche as Homo Sapiens.     

An incredibly thought-provoking evening.  I saw it on the first night, but we were invited to also attend the second night – free – if we wanted.   I didn’t go, but I catch myself wondering how it would have gone with a different audience – with a different set of views and interactions in the forum.


Every performance – like every individual life – will have a different trajectory and outcome.