I sometimes wish that real sex were like movie sex. A shared lustful look followed by a bit of kissing, hastily removed clothing, instant penetration, zero clitoral contact and BOOM: simultaneous orgasms for everyone!
When I grew up and realised that the real thing didn’t quite happen like that, my first instinct was to wonder what was wrong with me. As women, when things don’t go according to the scripts we’ve been raised with, of course it must be our fault.
Body Double, which has just opened at Q Theatre, turns those narratives on their head. It doesn’t follow rules. There are not many plays in which you’ll both listen to an extended reading of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and watch someone fisting a raw chicken. Nor are there many that tackle the nuanced and multi-layered subject of female desire with unapologetic frankness and joy. Body Double does all that and more, in a whirlwind hour and fifteen minutes that will leave you feeling – paradoxically – reeling and uplifted.
Body Double is the theatrical realisation of a raucous conversation over wine between two close female friends. It’s the kind of discussion in which no subject is out of bounds. On stage, it felt like both a brutal exposition of the crappy hand that women are often dealt in their sex lives and a refusal to play into it anymore.
Co-created by Eleanor Bishop, Julia Croft and Karin McCracken, Body Double is a furious romp through autobiographical, stream-of-consciousness musings. Julia and Karin appear as themselves on stage, and become our guides through a thorough traversing of the sexual landscape of being a heterosexual woman.
The play delves into female sexual agency. It asks questions about desire, being desired, and desiring the sensation of being desired. “It’s awesome to be the object,” Karin says at one point, voicing a sentiment utterly unacceptable to feminist doctrine, but unashamedly honest.
The writing is intelligent, but self-aware enough so as to not take itself too seriously. A reference to an idea of philosopher Roland Barthes’ couched in a discussion about bad Tinder experiences is described thusly: “That’s 1976 France ghosting”.
It careers from the serious (“I’m playacting the freedom that I want you to think that I have.”) to the outrageous (an extended montage of women orgasming in films, narrated by Karin with sound effects provided by Julia) to the serious again (“I’m afraid your power is going to be the one that wins.”) at pace, allowing little time for contemplation between punches, but leaves you feeling energised rather than exhausted. A tech mishap on opening night, while distracting, couldn’t shake the sense of inevitable trajectory that permeates the work as a whole.
People often shy away from openly challenging work. Some audience-goers may be put off by a play with the description: “We inherit our sex lives: from movies and books, from past lovers, from porn. And we learn: sex is mostly heterosexual. Women are desired. Men do the desiring and sex is over when he comes.” If they are, it will be their loss. This shameless feminist has sat through a number of turgid, sanctimonious and punishing productions, and I can tell you that this is not one of them.
In Body Double there is humour, fury, absurdity, honesty and unexpected cheerfulness. It will make you think, but there’s not a prescriptive moral of the story in sight.
And you might even learn a thing or two. I stood in the queue for the bathroom after the show and struck up a conversation with the woman next to me.
“What did you think?” I asked.
She gave me a sly smile. “I need to try a few news things in the bedroom!”
Body Double plays until the 29th of March at Q Theatre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. For more information, click here.Support Villainesse