Originally published on Reviews Hub
It’s probably best to just chuck it out there straight off. I loved, loved, loved 1972: The Future Of Sex, a fringe gem: quirky, lovely, silly, a bit cheeky and a hell of a lot clever, created on a low budget but bathed in gold.
There’s always been a buzz around The Wardrobe Ensemble, ever since they graduated as the first Made In Bristol company, but this is without doubt their valedictory show – the point when their promising beginnings blossom into fully realised visions. They are a company who have always known exactly what it is they want to say but with this they now have a firm hand on their stagecraft. If there is any justice the rest of the country will soon buzz like that emanating around the lovely new Wardrobe Theatre last night.
It is 1972, Bowie is on the radio and television, glam rock is just beginning to take off and sex is on the mind of everyone. Or almost anyone. As the lights go up on the horrified, awkward faces of the seven ensemble members it is clear that this shagging malarkey may not be working for everyone. For everyone having a whale of a time, slipping acid, swapping partners there were still the confused and awkward, discovering themselves, their sexuality and their political theories.
Anna (Jesse Meadows) catches the glance of Tess (Emma Greenslade) across the aisle of a record shop and thinks she is the most beautiful, most brave and daring person she has ever met. A university student is smitten with her hip sociology lecturer who expounds on the virtues of female sexuality and DH Lawrence, a girl prepares for losing her virginity by going to the cinema to see Deep Throat. Meanwhile, Anton (James Newton) explores first his look and later his gender in a nakedly revealing moment.
What seems at first glance a retro period romp proves to have just as much brain with smart flash forwards in time framing youthful idealism with middle-aged drudgery and paunches, where those early disappointments in the bedroom can lead to latter-day regrets. Where Germaine Greer can destroy everything by a fleeting appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. For a company of 90s children, the Wardobe Ensemble is right on top of the material. It works just as well for those who remember the time judging by the knowing chuckles as it does for those of us who have just been saturated by the culture since.
It is given a playful production by directors Tom Brennan and Jesse Jones, with live music, actors delivering characters thoughts by microphone and snippets of songs that make you wish they were selling vinyl at the end of the show. In many ways, it feels like a brilliantly accomplished A Level devised piece, with all the infectious energy and out there ideas that encompasses. Combine that, though, with something so finely chiselled, nothing feels out-of-place or extraneous, no joke is overplayed then you really do have something really rather special.
Bristol has had a couple of five-star pieces created for this city in the past couple of years, Sally Cookson’s lovingly realised Jane Eyre, Owen Sheer’s poetic, horrific Pink Mist, now we can add The Future Of Sex to that list. It’s a calling card moment for this company and it’s about time.
Runs until 26 March 2016 then touring | Image: Richard Davenport