What constitutes real sex? How do you explore it in writing? Flirt Fiction, a new Australian play that premiered at this year’s Fringe, delves into the complexities beneath the surface of such questions. It’s clever, witty and genuinely sexy, but beyond run-of-the-mill adjectives, it contains moments of surprising insight and punchy revelation.
The basic set-up is simple enough. It involves a couple, Henry and Ana, who challenge each other to write erotic fiction. Whilst sat in a café, both decide to use the same waitress – renamed Venus – as the physical inspiration for their protagonists. She becomes their puppet; a blank canvas onto which to project their fantasies and, in the process, she illuminates their nature.
Sex is fascinating, no two ways about it. Finding common ground on the subject is another matter. Everyone has a rather idiosyncratic approach to what turns him/her on, and that forward-slash is in itself an impenetrable wall. Clichéd as it may sound, men and women conceptualise sex differently.
This is precisely the chasm that Henry and Ana set out to breach in their stories. His first attempt is cheesy and puerile. It envisions the stereotypical lesbian encounter, where chat-up lines signal impatient horniness. Venus asks Henry to dig deeper. He replies with an animalistic gang-bang scene that culminates in his female protagonist awaking crushed, bloodied and covered in “viscous yellow bear cum”. Violent as fuck just about begins to describe it.
Ana takes a different route, suggesting sexual tension first, then producing a tale that had my member pounding harder than usual. Without giving too much away, her story made me resent the comparative tediousness of my last art gallery visit.
Everything about the production is slick and effective. Lawrence Ashford plays Henry as a man who enjoys thinking himself open-minded. As Ana, Kathryn Delaney displays a tricky combination of confidence and anxiety. Zoe Cooper makes Venus irate, androgynous, frenzied, then snide, depending on what each scene requires. The soundtrack and set design work well, as do brief departures into contemporary dance territory. The writing is literate, but the dialogue never feels forced, except perhaps at the end, when it invariably must.
As an erotic reviewer at this year’s Fringe, I’ve seen my fair share of shows that deal with sex and sexuality, but none have come close to the kind of buzz I got from watching Flirt Fiction.
Flirt Fiction. Written and directed by Jessica Craig-Piper. Produced by Red Rabbit Collective. theSpaces on North Bridge, Edinburgh. August 5-27 (not 7, 14 or 21), 22:40. £10 (£8 concessions)