It’s always very disappointing when a show you’re think you’re going to love, with a writer you already like, doesn’t live up to what you were hoping. Unfortunately, Perverts fits into that category for me. The story follows Katie as she enters the cloakroom queue of a sex club in Cardiff – it isn’t long before we learn that she has history with the place, and with the scene of people who frequent it. Returning after a hiatus, Katie finds the community she was once a part of shuns her for her past transgressions, and that the leather-lacquered, neon-drenched world she used to inhabit has changed its ways. What’s more important to Katie, however, is moving on from her ‘situationship’ with fellow club-frequenter Mairi, and finding a sense of who she is again.
We follow Katie through the tunnels, corridors and dungeons that make up the club, as she starts to feel that rhe walls are pressing in on her, and that the layout of the club has changed. What happened to the smoking area, never mind the exit? Katie bumps into her polyamorous pals who are inviting her a threesome, but she’s disinterested, as she pursues a sexy nun that flirted with her as she drifted into the building. Pursuit is a major theme in Perverts, not only of elusive queer affection, but also of identity, self-hood, and some kind of stabilisation in a world of flux, kink and flirtation. The idea of a kind of queer, kinky kafkaesque nightmare thorougly appealed to me as a story, unfortunately the execution doesn’t quite deliver.
Mared Jarman’s performance as Katie is believable as far as being a Queer person in Cardiff, but unfortunately both the dialogue and direction offer very little for her to grapple with in terms of the kink world. Exploration of the world of the sex club is limited often to small interactions with different sections of the club. We are introduced to the dungeon, and only really introduced to the dungeon, there’s not a lot of risk taken in creating the world of a sex club, much more focus on the details of Katie’s personal life. This is fine, as an elucidating reveal of a young Queer woman in Cardiff, but it does little to worldbuild the sex club around us, nor Katie’s relationship to it. The bare stage and Katie’s often quite constricted movements also give us very little insight into the world we’re supposed to be looking at, which somewhat stunts the imaginative space for the audience to project onto the stage.
The unfortunate resulting effect is one of contextual and thematic shallowness, and we’re unable to really believe wholeheartedly that Katie exists in the world that is posited to us. Similarly difficult to grapple with is the sound design. Around a third of this piece is Katie responding to prerecorded audio bytes of other characters. They often talk as if the audience is to know who is speaking, and unfortunately there isn’t enough characteristic distinction between the voices for us to always be up to date with who we’re listening to. It also disconnects the piece from the world of the real, and is an unusual storytelling medium to choose with a wide open stage dripping in neon pink.
I’m not sure if this needed to be a one person show, or if it did, that the central actor could engage in some multi-roling to create more of a semblant network of relationships. It didn’t help either that the recorded audio wasn’t the best quality, meaning I had to strain my ears hear and there to make sure I got every detail.
This difficulty in establishing a world is combined with the costume design, which feels risk-averse given the kinky nature of the play. It feels that the show’s focus ran amok at some point, and we are left with the shadow of a great Alice McKee piece. There’s a monster show lying in the concept and the script here – and it deserves serious retooling to deliver a fantastic experience for the audience.
This one didn’t quite hit the spot – but props to Jarman who does the absolute best she can with an empty stage and a difficult technical setup. She manages to keep our attention throughout regardless. I hope I am seeing the beginnings of something special, but we’re not close to the ends that are promised just yet.
Recommended Drink: Perverts is like a Green Tea Highball – more mellow than you’d hoped, but still something to digest and think about.
Showings of Perverts have now concluded at VAULT Festival. Keep up with the show’s creators on Social Media for future showings.