Naughty – Camden Fringe, Etcetera Theatre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Andrew Houghton

Andrew Houghton’s unflinchingly honest play Naughty is a semi-autobiographical examination of predatory sexuality and inappropriate behaviour as a teacher coerces the 16-year-old Andrew into a flirtatious text message dialogue that becomes increasingly pressured. This 60-minute show playing at the Etcetera Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe carefully charts how a trusted adult exploits a young man’s vulnerability.

Having come out to himself and his mother, Andrew finds short-lived happiness with first boyfriend Jake, but over-friendly college teachers Lucy and Kevin are sceptical about the relationship. When Jake cheats, Andrew goes to Kevin for advice but is soon trapped in an out-of-hours conversation that becomes increasingly inappropriate in tone and content as the older man starts to pressure Andrew with sexually explicit messages.

Naughty is essentially a message from the older Andrew to his younger self that considers all of the fears, anxieties and prejudices he faced during his school years that shaped his initial responses to sex and relationships. Even before Kevin appears as a defining part of this story, Houghton considers the nature of sexuality, his own desire for monogamous relationships and the shy attempts to find and solidify his identity as a young man finally starting to discover who he is meant to be.

That Kevin intrudes in this process becomes increasingly uncomfortable as the tenor of the over-friendly messages shifts at an alarming pace over several weeks. Projected onscreen as well as narrated by an unseen voice, we watch the formality dissolve to be replaced first by invasive questions about Andrew’s private life, then what is made to seem like a general discussion about the gay scene and lifestyle options before finally turning into late night contact with overtly sexual content. And Houghton’s play conveys that development and the discomfort extremely well while being clear that the line was crossed right at the beginning.

Framed in flashback as present-day Andrew relives key moments, Houghton dramatises the messages but also mixes recreated conversations with friends, family and teachers in which he plays all the roles (with subtle shifts in tone and body language) with reflections on the events as they happen. And while Naughty deals with some difficult issues, there are plenty of comic moments as the show balances the darker elements with Andrew’s happiness and contentment with the direction his life has taken.

The play is particularly strong on the long-term effects of Kevin’s behaviour and while Andrew did little to encourage it – trapped in a catch-22 situation with an older authority figure – the erosion of his self-esteem and the growing dread is powerfully conveyed. A scene in which Houghton plays Jenga as the conversation takes on a whole new dimension is an especially apposite metaphor.

While it is clear that the present-day version of Andrew undergoes a process of acceptance and self-reconciliation in the intervening years concluding with a letter to his 16-year-old avatar, Naughty is ultimately a play with a positive message that speaks honestly about the complexities of sex, sexuality and the celebration of identity.

Runs until 22 August 2021

Camden Fringe runs from 2 August to 29 August 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Unflinchingly honest

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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