I left school in 1972, so this show was always going to catch my eye. Not an especially prurient eye, I might add – not nowadays anyway. Bristol-based Wardrobe Ensemble even decorate their set with close to the same wallpaper (geometric roundels of orange and brown flowers) that my parents lovingly pasted onto my bedroom walls. I entertained my first girlfriend in that room; we drank tea and cuddled – yes we did – and listened to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. That’s the album with ‘Ch-ch- ch-ch Changes’ on it, which is just as relevant as the canoodling.
For sex then is not the same as sex now, and that’s because it’s culturally transmitted. Put Lady Chatterley’s Lover up against Fifty Shades of Grey to see where this devised show is coming from. The good thing about 1972: The Future of Sex is that it takes you back in a very honest way, which happens to be fun, and makes you question what on earth we’ve done to sex since then.
There’s a rectangular space with a mike at each corner. It’s 1972 on stage – anxiety, frustration, awkward approaches, fumbling embarrassment, but it’s all alright ’cause “I’m on the pill” – and from the corners comes dry, ironic commentary. It may be Vinny’s Vids selling blue movies on the suburban High Street, but you’re also hearing the eye-watering facts of today’s online porn industry.
Three young couples manage to get close in their different, shy, ways: Rich and Christine, Tessa and Anna, Penny and Martin. And there’s Anton, who’s in a different league. What I liked is that while there are plenty of laughs – at those 70s dance moves for an obvious instance – no one is laughed at. Anton’s father (very well portrayed by Ben Vardy) stands outside his son’s door and gently assures him that “it’ll be alright, Son”.
There is an ecstatic physical sequence that is really too long, but otherwise the play moves well, keyed in by some neat guitar work. The postmodern critique does not rub out the personal histories. In fact, by including nicely judged answers to the question of what happened to the characters next, you do leave with more understanding than anything that The Joy of Sex (1972!) ever provided.
Bowie’s Changes ends with that lovely wistful phrasing for solo saxophone – which is just fine by me, both now and when I was eighteen. So, four stars for this show: three for committed and successful work, and one for making me feel good.