Pros: Revealing, with in-depth interviews; intriguingly toys with audience expectations.
Cons: Too long and not enough humour.
Louise Orwin likes to play with her audience. She toys with the notion of what a performance is, of what it means to be scripted and of how our reactions can be manipulated. In Oh Yes Oh No, which she has conceived, written and now performs, she looks at the darker side of sex, concentrating on the non-consensual. It’s part of Camden People’s Theatre’s Hotbed season of plays about sex, but rather than a celebration of sensual delight it’s an examination of rape.
Centre stage is a podium on which we see a Barbie doll with her grinning male companion, Ken, standing on a patch of fake grass. A camera projects this image onto a screen behind, and Orwin uses a voice-changing microphone to simulate the high-pitched, excitable voice of Barbie. “I love being used,” she says, in character. “I love being objectified. What do I want? It’s been so long since I asked myself what do I want.” Together with a volunteer from the audience she strips Ken and Barbie naked and goes on to make them perform a variety of sex acts, watched by the ever-present camera. But Barbie is not being taken against her will: she’s not only a willing participant, she’s leading the action.
The volunteer reads from a prepared script, which responds to Orwin’s statements while questioning their validity; a favourite trick of Orwin’s, used to great effect in her earlier creation A Girl & A Gun. Questions and doubts are scripted, as Orwin builds a complex self-referential metadialogue.
For long periods Orwin sits motionless while the voices of interviewees relate their experiences. Not of the act of rape itself, but their later reactions to the experience: “It’s like I’m watching the movie again,” one woman recalls, “but this time with subtitles.” The testimonies are frank and never salacious, woven through each other like a tapestry. The question Orwin wants to answer is: how can a rape survivor still be turned on by rape fantasies? It’s a good question, but it contradicts the Barbie and Ken depiction of sex, which shows its participants as very much on an equal and consensual footing.
This is a complex, uncomfortable show that reveals much about its creator’s view of sexuality and it seems that, for her, sex is largely about deceit, guilt and compromise. At an hour and a half it could do with some judicious trimming, and would benefit greatly from the insertion of a little more humour.
Author: Louise Orwin
Producer: Jen Smethurst
Booking until: 11 May 2017
Box Office: 020 7419 4841
Booking Link: https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/show-tickets/?showid=sf3&id=5071