Cherry

Fri 11th – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

Helena Snider

at 09:40 on 21st Aug 2017

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'Cherry', a play about the loss of virginity, is performed by Loose Cannon, a newly formed company made up of students from Bristol University.

At the start, the stage consists solely of a double bed. The lights soon dim and the actors, one by one, stand up and go over to a box. Reaching in, they each read out words scrawled on pieces of the paper that lie inside: “‘He’s almost 17. He has to get laid before his birthday or he can’t be my friend.” Each piece of card tells the story of someone losing their virginity. Looking at real stories from anonymous sources, the play discusses intelligently the nuances of cultural attitudes towards virginity across the spectrum of age, gender, culture and sexuality.

My concerns that there would be no plot or narrative are soon put to rest. There is no need for a conventional linear narrative, as the snippets of real life tales and innovative physical theatre provide the audience with a truer sense of the emotional journeys of its characters.

The play’s strongest feature is its ability to combine humour with serious discussion. It is amusing but, equally, forces us to turn inward and challenge our preconceptions and assumptions about sex and virginity. It succeeds to an overwhelming degree. One way in which this is achieved is through the presentation of lines from some of the biggest films and TV shows of the noughties and nineties. This allows it to interrogate the culture in which this generation have all grown up – a culture that perpetuates stereotypes surrounding what it means to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. Someone quotes from 'Clueless', “You’re just a virgin who can’t drive.” The audience laughs loud, but there is a level of discomfort too.

The effect is both clever and powerful. It forces the audience – consisting mostly of people of university age or in their twenties – to reconsider the influences that shaped them, and consider the level of harmful instruction that came from seemingly harmless TV shows. As 'Cherry' points out, most of us would have been in Year 7 when 'The Inbetweeners' first began teaching us the supposed necessity of having sex as a means to fulfil some kind of masculine ideal.

Another of the production's strengths is its inclusion of all types of different groups. The best acting no doubt came from a testimonial of a Christian girl’s first time with an emotionally manipulative older boy. This account is so sensitively performed that it is heartbreaking to watch.

Overall, the show is compelling from the very start. Its talented actors performing authentic interviews and testimonies is something not to be missed.

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Amaris Proctor

at 13:52 on 21st Aug 2017

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I entered the theatre with some of the same emotions that the play demonstrates many people feel before they lose their virginity: high hopes, anticipation, and an anxiety that it might be really awkward. Fortunately, my nervousness was soon abated. A deep well of emotional intelligence informs this play, which is imbued with tenderness, empathy, and humour.

The play draws upon over a hundred real accounts of people’s loss of virginity, to express the scope of experience which exists. It presents the audience with a cascade of distinctly individual voices, exposing how people's first brush with sexuality can shape itself around religion, sexual orientation, age and shame. This makes for intensely personal and relatable viewing, as snatches of the narrative will seem like conversations you’ve had before. Rather than endeavouring to make erroneous blanket statements like ‘your first time is always terrible’ or ‘it’s a rite of passage’, which are lobbed about so carelessly in the media, the piece seeks to open up dialogic avenues for exploration. Its nuanced treatment of the complexities and ambiguities of pressure and consent are strikingly laudable. All this is executed with with an exceptional gift for fluidity by the cast. Their charisma and guts as they inhabit a series of roles is incredibly emotive.

The set is one aspect of the show I simply have to pay tribute to. It consists of a bed behind which a plain sheet partition is situated, the latter of which is used with some artistry to illustrate the anonymity of the internet. These minimalistic and contemporary set pieces are brought into play with a graceful rhythm and flair that is lovely to watch. The simplicity of the props work in the production’s favour, with fairy lights and party hats taking on truly metamorphosing qualities. This is elevated by the technical feats of lighting and sound, which wonderfully realise the production’s creative vision. The lighting and utilisation of a projector provides some sleek visuals which enhance the sense of atmosphere. The same can be said of the soundtrack, as the play was spliced with myriad pop culture allusions, including iconic snippets from Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’, ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Clueless’, ‘Mean Girls’ and ’50 Shades of Grey’ which the actors mimed in a legitimately funny way.

Ultimately, this piece of new writing effectively strips away the tropes surrounding virginity in order to produce something with thrilling rawness and maturity. It is a thought-provoking watch.

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