Writers: Tom Brennan, Tom Crosley-Thorne, Tom England, Emily Greenslade, Jesse Jones, Kerry Lovell, Jesse Meadows, Helena Middleton, James Newton, Ben Vardy, Edythe Wooley
Director: Tom Brennan and Jesse Jones
Music: Tom Crosely-Thorne
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Venue: New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich
American hip-hop trio Salt-n-Pepa may have sung Let’s Talk About Sex in 1991, but nearly two decades earlier it was a conversation that was just beginning – well it was in the mind of young people of the time, convinced they were the first generation to discover sex.
1972 was an era of change. The restrained 50s, the swinging 60s giving way to a more confrontational age. Troubles in Northern Ireland and conflict in homes across the country as teenagers began to question equality, freedom and sexuality. It was the year of the first Pride march in London but the promise of free love from the 60s hadn’t really materialised.
Told through four interwoven stories, The Wardrobe Ensemble take us back to a period of dubious taste in wallpaper and even more dubious fashion, as a group of young people discover the joy, and pain of sexual awakening.
There is the lecturer and student exploring feminist liberation in an unconventional manner, the nerdy girl who discovers that love doesn’t have to be with a boy, the band lead singer and groupie, neither of who live up to their stereotypes.
And then there’s Antony. Tony to his friends (who we suspect may be limited in number) but in his own mind Anton. Locked in a world of isolation, inspired by Bowie’s flamboyant pansexuality and unable to come out to his own parents, it is perhaps his tale that holds the real emotional kick of the evening.
As the other three couples stumble, often comically, on their road to sexual fulfilment, or at the very least a one night fumble, Anton is shut behind his bedroom door, unable to communicate with his father on the other side of the closed door. Lipstick, glitter makeup and stolen items from his mother’s wardrobe hinting at his torn identity.
Alongside the pathos though there is plenty of perfectly pitched humour to keep us amused. Live voice over and song (with live accompaniment from flare-clad Tom Crosley-Thorne) keeps the pace fast and frenetic, without ever sacrificing plot or character.
The entire company (Ben Vardy, Kerry Lovell, James Newton, Emily Greenslade, Jesse Meadows, Helena Middleton and Tom England) embody the spirit of the age, exaggerating character just enough without it turning into caricature. It is though, perhaps Newton’s Anton that sticks most in the memory. His recreation of Botticelli’s Venus a wordless yet evocative summing up of both hope and pain.
We may not have been there in 1972, but in The Wardrobe Ensemble’s masterful production, we feel both relieved and jealous not to have been there.
Reviewed 1 June 2016 | Image: Richard Davenport