Spill: A Verbatim Show about Sex

Tue 23rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 20:18 on 24th Aug 2016

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Following the success of the verbatim theatre production (and, later, film) of 'London Road', 'Spill' takes the most impressive aspects of this concept and builds on them. "Verbatim" refers to the fact that all the lines of the show are taken from interviews with real members of the public. In 'London Road' these interviews related to a community dealing with crime, whereas 'Spill', naturally, deals with sex. The diverse range of characters and experiences which emerge make this a fascinating glimpse into a world which is, all too often, not talked about.

The cast handle the many monologues with ease, despite the many "likes" and "ums" which pepper the lines. Each portray a distinct personality, sometimes more than one, and unabashedly tell explicit and embarrassing stories with admirable confidence. A whole range of genders and sexualities are represented, emphasising the multifarious nature of sex and encouraging different identities to be expressed.

Most of the lines are delivered as interlinking speeches, similar in theme or content, but some are performed as songs. This works surprisingly well, with intricate harmonies and catchy melodies. Choreography plays a big role in the production too: carefully planned routines of repetitive movement and abstract dance may sound intimidating, but in fact make the piece all the more accessible. The movement serves to emphasise certain aspects of the monologues (peer pressure, awkwardness, attraction) in a clear and inventive way.

The set is also well-designed: tables and chairs splattered with blue and yellow paint, a DJs station and keyboard, party paraphernalia such as popcorn, plastic cups and balloons. There is enough to keep the eye interested, but not so much that it distracts from the actors.

The subject-matter of the various stories is deeply affecting. As the performers retell first-times and fantasies, or explain sexism and gender reassignment, you can't help but empathise with each and every one, no matter how different from yourself they may be. Of course, there are many things which are mentioned which are achingly relatable.

Another strength of this production is the acknowledgement of asexuality, which is so often overlooked by mainstream culture. 'Spill' is not scared of diversity, but embraces it whole-heartedly.

I will say that this show is not for the faint-hearted. If you are not up to this level of frankness, it may not be for you. But if you think you can handle it, you will not be disappointed. You will be in for an hour of fascinating and deeply personal stories, which you won't forget in a hurry.

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Ryan Bradley

at 22:45 on 25th Aug 2016

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If verbatim theatre boasts great potential, it also has many restrictions. Compiled from real interviews, ‘Spill: A Verbatim Show About Sex’ is often entertaining and touching. However, many of the discussions are also uninteresting or unimpressive. The short segments educate, overshare and entertain, but some are more tedious than others.

The musical portions of ‘Spill’ are where it really succeeds, translating the idiosyncrasies of natural speech into well-constructed songs. These elements are well planned by musical directors Faye Bishop and Hal Kelly, the latter of which provides scattered comedy as a twee, bejumpered DJ. Here, spontaneity and imprecision meets order, their incongruous collaboration creating a unique, bizarre product. Lana Binysh vocals are consistently wonderful, upstaging the majority of her fellow cast in the singing department. This may sound overly negative, but the remainder of Propolis Theatre’s acting company display different strengths. They are duly commended for their ability to travel between tones, shifting to serious, sensitive issues against the backdrop of an ever-changing party. Unsurprisingly, most of the music comes across as humorous, a particular highlight being the number ‘Two wanks, an egg sandwich and I’m ready for the world’. This is sure to delight, asserting itself strongly as contender for England’s next Eurovision single.

Some songs are not as light-hearted. ‘Do you know the way to hold’em?’ explores the casual sexual harassment experienced by pubescent girls, introducing rape culture and ‘laddish’ objectification to the landscape. The whimsical nature of the music itself parallels the perception of such abuse as a mere joke. Sadly, the interludes are all too brief, but their levity might be inappropriate for later discussions. The spoken, unsung material can be less engaging, yet it discusses some very important topics.

In ‘Spill’, sex is a fun sport, something to be shared with a dear person, and an optional terrain to be rejected. Stories about rape relate the topic’s darker side, reflecting the bravery it takes for victims to speak up in the face of potential ridicule. Refreshingly, the show strays from a heteronormative path too, representing many different sexual identities. Towards the end, persons asexual, demisexual and aromantic have their say. The exploration is far from thorough, but their presence is much needed, never feeling like a simple ‘checklist’ of preferences. A transgender male’s exasperation with an idiotic doctor is another highlight of the section, tenderly addressing his views in an educative fashion.

Serious, humorous and instructive material is discussed at length, but the unplanned, stumbling nature of the speech can cause the script to drag at points. Propolis Theatre works well with this, imbuing the content with a fresh, energetic vitality.

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