Thursday, 26 February 2015

Fleabag, Sanitised and Denton and Me

There is an undercurrent of sexual anxiety that tugs at the characters in Fleabag, Sanitised and Denton and Me. Whether it is the post-war illegality of homosexuality of Denton, the loneliness of Me in the flesh-pots of London, the Fleabag's uptight nymphomania or Sanitised clean and dirty fantasies, sexual desire both confuses and frightens, even as the characters come to an understanding of themselves. 

All three shows are solo performances - Denton and Me and
Fleabag being monologues, Sanitised  physical theatre without a word but plenty of AV tricks - and they all focus on an individual's relationship to sex. Sanitised broadens its scope by using cleaning as a metaphor for one woman's attempt to cleanse her life - Lorna Irvine points out that the entire piece could be seen as a play on the word 'scrubber' - while Denton has a deep historical sensitivity, linking contemporary ennui with earlier, more urgent, anguish. Fleabag, meanwhile, is a more comic take with a protagonist who, nevertheless, kills with the force of her promiscuity.

The idea that validation - or for Denton and Me, an escape from alienation - can come through sex is explored from three distinct angles. Perhaps because of its wordlessness, Sanitised includes sex (represented by red high heels and a basque) as part of a general meditation on the life of the modern woman: hidden in her bathroom, her cleaning routines become a kind of social performance, as she discovers filth, delights it in, then is overcome by shame and gets to work removing it. 

The pain in Denton is shared between three characters (including
the protagonist's aging family friend who seems adrift in regret), and covers both the threat of a state that criminalises desire and a more contemporary alienation from gay culture. Fleabag, meanwhile, resolves itself into a recognition that the heroine is unable to accept herself without sexual validation.

What emerges from the three works is like a trilogy of frustration - sex, which was supposed to have been made uncomplicated (much of Fleabag revels in passionate encounters) remains a dark, complicated event, full of guilt and longing. 

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