Lady in the Sheets: A ‘sex-drenched’ production at The Michael Pilch11th November 2017
Lady In The Sheets is a deeply probing study of the joys and plights of female sexuality. It tears off the veils of social propriety and sanitised euphemisms to reveal in all its uncomfortable truth, the harsh reality of femininity within an inherently androcentric society.
The play is quite literally sex-drenched from beginning to end-pornographic posters adorn the walls, phallic embroidery is woven into the costumes and ‘dick pics’ feature throughout the performance as a sort of imposing penis powerpoint. All of these phallus fuelled symbols serve to highlight the encroaching threat of masculinity to females and their inner sexualities, a sensation which has already been made unstable due to wider social propriety and its apparent incongruity with feminine lust. The set itself confronts the audience with the media’s portrayal of hyper-female sexuality, the exaggerated and superficial lust you would expect to find on a porn website. One almost expects the characters to mirror the apparent sexual confidence demonstrated by the 28DD-breasted covergirl pasted on the wall just above them. However, we soon see that the media’s depiction of sexuality, and the personal desires of women in reality, are in total juxtaposition with one another. Whilst the covergirl teasingly fondles her areola, the characters struggle to even say the word ‘orgasm’ and when they finally do, it is coated with smirks and giggles. The disparity between the setting and the characters demonstrates a very important social issue, female lust is only accepted in the eyes of men if it is on a computer screen situated under the web address www.pornhub.com. Women’s desires simply have no place in society, lust is only viable if it is aiding and enhancing the male orgasm, female sexuality only exists in a virtual realm.
This idea is placed into a more harrowing context later on in the play when a character’s brother walks in on her watching pornography. He looks at her, looks at the video, looks at her, looks at the video, and then proceeds to call her all the names he has in his sexist arsenal-‘slag’, ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and many others. The brother is faced with the virtual hyper-reality of female sexuality in the form of staged and superficial porn, and a girl who is curious about her desires, wanting to explore her sensuality in one of the only places she knows, a place which masculine society deems acceptable-porn websites. By calling the girl a ‘slut’/‘slag’/‘whore’ rather than the women on the screen, it again demonstrates that female sexuality is either acceptable or unacceptable depending on whether it adheres to masculine want.
One of the play’s strong suits was its ability to use set and costume for symbolic purposes. The very opening of The Lady In The Sheets utilised windows to preface the theme of the locked-in- women. The characters began their performance by gazing out of their respective windows, an expression of longing on their faces. It reminds us that whilst the character’s husbands and male acquaintances are out in the world of work, the women are left inside, isolated from the realms of business and politics. Instead, they are occupied by the domestic half of their roles such as the incessant ironing, dusting and childcare undertook by the characters. The other half of their role is embroidered onto their dresses in the form of a penis, reminding us of the sexual function of women, but also that masculinity is intertwined with female identity. Even the theatre seating, which takes the form of pillows and blankets, resembling a frameless double bed, takes on a symbolic role by literally placing the audience in the centre of a sexual hub. The viewers hence take on the role of voyeurs by observing the outpour of female desire and identity which reveals itself before us.
I will end my review by commenting on the end of The Lady In The Sheets-a collective chorus of orgasm. By giving a theatrical voice to female climax, and sculpting the very crux of feminine sexuality into a primal cry of injustice, the audience are left with a lingering final image of pleasure intertwined with pain. The play almost becomes a performance within a performance in this moment, of course the actors are performing to us throughout the whole show, but we are reminded that the characters also have to undertake a theatrical role when interacting with their male acquaintances, be it faking an orgasm, or their own happiness. This poignant closing scene encapsulates the raw emotion and social injustice explored in Lady In The Sheets, an image which does not leave your mind as you leave the theatre.