Edinburgh Fringe 2019
“Rachel Mars is unearthing the hot-as-hell letters from history that make sexts blush. Before tech, there were hand-written letters. And loads of them were proper filthy. Come! Take pleasure in James Joyce’s passion for arse, find out who sneaked her gay lover into the White House and bear witness to the best/worst sexts ever sent. This gloriously intimate, very funny and surprisingly moving new show is an erotic archive shot through with Rachel’s personal ventures in contemporary queer kink.”
Rachel Mars, presents a series of letters written between lovers. What makes these interesting is that these lovers are well known writers and musicians, from over 100 years ago, and to be frank, they are positively filthy in places. A Fringe tip: just don’t take your Nan to this show.
The stage is set with a writing desk, a projector and a large screen. Here becomes the setting for an unfolding of desire, of identity and sexuality. Mars jumps right in, with an extraordinary and visually evocative reading of one (of many) James Joyce’s letter to his wife Nora, during a period of time apart. It is surprising, erotic, sometimes not so erotic (depending on your personal taste of course), it’s explicit, poetic, breathy and sometimes just wow.
Mars then clicks the remote control pointer at the screen behind her.
We are shown the modern date equivalent of sexy writing. A sext. A sexual message, a sexy text if you will, sent via a digital medium such as a smart phone. It is usually brief and to the point. No room for mystery or ambiguity. A Sext might be a message sent from someone you have never met. Or from someone you bumped into at a festival, had a nice chat and exchanged numbers. It might be from a friend, a bit drunk and taking a risk on a lonely Friday night. It might be from a spouse, trying to spice things up (though usually it would be followed by “Oh and could you pick up some cat food too”.). Sexts might read like;
“Can you come round and sit on my face”
“You look like the kind of girl who would puke on my dick. Plz tell me how I can make it happen. Insert [sex face emoticon] and [leering wink emoticon].”
It’s disappointing. It’s recognisable. It’s unimaginative and not only that, the grammar is a let down. It really is shit.
We are reminded of the rapid decline of the art of Eros.
We have gone from;
I am on my back – waiting to be spread wide apart – waiting for you, to die with the sense of you – the pleasure of you – the sensuousness of you touching the sensuousness of me – all my body – all of me is waiting for you to touch the center of me with the center of you.
– Georgia O’Keeffe, letter to Alfred Stieglitz, 1922
To 2019, the peak of sexting and ‘dick pics’. For clarity, ‘dick pics’ are photos, of male penises, usually erect, sent via the digital realm, uninvited, rude and quite frankly ghastly, into whomever’s inbox is unlucky enough to be targeted.
Mars is a bit of a genius exploring this topic in the way that she has. There is no anger, no shame and no blame. She calmly, and inventively presents. She lets the audience make up their own mind. And the narrative circles back on itself, reminding us that it’s not all as simple as that.
With a range of punchy female strong music, contrasted against sultry jazz, we are settled into a lingering erotic and sultry atmosphere. The writing speaks for itself; the old letters are a thing of wonder. Memorably are of course James Joyce’s obsession with the windy rump of his love Nora. But also are Mar’s own words, her personal search for identity, they are exquisite, unflinchingly honest, proud, they also leave enough space for possibility, for the audience to savour their own meaning and self discovery. As the offerings unfold, it becomes clear that things aren’t as black and white as the title of this show suggests. Nothing ever is.
This is an expertly directed, clean and complete production although still has room for development.
You won’t see anything quite like this on the Fringe.
Mars is an incredible performer to watch, balancing humour with bittersweet fierce intelligence and knowing soft smiles.
It left me feeling quite emotional – there was enough left unsaid for the audience to fill in their own stories of love, of lust, of grief and loneliness. Of longing and of lovely long afternoons holding hands with lovers. The final reading is not in Mar’s voice and it is earthy and raw and wonderful. It’s something to look forward to. Enjoy.
A show to think about, and definitely not text about. Or maybe. Why not?