Back in 2011, Brian Logan wrote in the Guardian about a couple who appeared to be on a mission to hit every West End theatre… and have sex in the stalls. Actors Alex Kingston and Rob Lowe had reported seeing the couple from the stage, “getting [their] kicks in the front row”. Quite why the couple chose to attempt this is still unknown – perhaps it was a dare, or attempting to ‘do it in public’ with the lights down, or perhaps they just really LOVE theatre. Either way, it was a bizarre, confusing, but nevertheless impressive feat to endeavour.
This raised the question of the ‘sexiness’ of theatre, which has (surprisingly) still a large number of people thinking it stuffy, old-fashioned, and uncool. But the ever more daring nature of theatre shows is highlighting the fact that two people in front of you on a stage is far more thrilling than watching a glass box. The stage, as opposed to the screen, isn’t interested in beautiful faces or perfect bodies – it highlights the physicality of relationships, the eroticism of voice, and the presence of people in front of one another.
In Spring Awakening, for example, the hayloft scene between under-age Wendla and Melchior seems even more intimate by the fact that there are audience members either side of them. Their embrace, both experimental and innocent, is private, yet completely exposed to all of us who sit on our plush seats. Whereas film can cleverly create the illusion of voyeurism with shadows and scenes shot through window frames, the theatre is the ultimate peep-show, viewed through a large proscenium arch. We the audience are given free gaze over everything and everybody.
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical came from the 1960s hippie culture, embracing sexual revolution, drug experimentation, and an increasing resistance to the Vietnam War. Containing scenes of drug abuse, sexual freedom, and racially equal casting, it caused much controversy during its first few productions. Indeed, just before the interval, the cast flood the stage with a powerful rendition of “Where Do I Go?”, but completely naked. Men and women, all shapes and sizes, stand strong on stage with nothing to hide – somehow, seeing that on a film would not have had the impact it does when it’s right in front of your eyes. After getting over the initial unexpected nature of the scene, it becomes powerful, inspiring, and a little intimidating.
Even by today’s standards, people seem quick to shy away from eroticism when it is not protected by an editor’s keen axe. Many shows are beginning to come with age restrictions – the cabaret circus La Soirée does warn of its ‘sexy…dangerous’ nature. Acts such as Ursula Martinez’ rather risqué disappearing hanky has you blushing and crying, in awe of this woman just a few feet away for her incredible confidence.
Whilst sex is accepted and indeed expected in things such as cabaret and burlesque, its strange to think that it is still taking so long for theatre-goers to accept it in more traditional productions. Directors become clever when depicting love-scenes, such as a recent tour of Birdsong using dance and a red scarf to express the intimacy. But being one of, if not the, most basic form of humanity, should we not shrug off our somewhat Victorian objections for good, and embrace it for what it is – the depiction of love, passion, physicality, and intimacy. It becomes something shared, not only between the actors, but between us and them – we get a glimpse into a private part of life that few people allow to be known. It is a rare, special, and incredibly thrilling thing to not be divided by a remote and selected screen shots. Shakespeare was keen to “stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie”; isn’t it about time the rest of us did too?