Audiences should flock to see The Benefits of Disabled Sex. This play is one of the best things I’ve seen at VAULT Festival this year. Whether you’re a wheelchair user or a ‘walker’ (a name not-so-affectionately given by performer Sonny Howes) you will laugh out loud at this outrageous and innuendo driven comedy.
The Benefits of Disabled Sex is a semi-autobiographical piece following one young man’s experience through puberty and into early adulthood. We get an insight into his difficult relationship with his mother, his first sexual encounter and what to do when your crush gets a boyfriend. The piece centers on his experience as a disabled teenager going through all this for the first time. There are benefits, as promised, but also plenty of low moments.
London, home to VAULT festival, is often considered one of the most accessible cities to visit in Europe, and still only a third of Tube stations have step free access. This play is a reminder that treatment of disabled people in this country is very poor, and more importantly how harmful misconceptions about disabled people can be. The character touches on how surprised able bodied people are when learning about how much sex you can have in a wheelchair … and how many places you can have it too.
The piece is framed by the four mobility aids that the young man uses while he attends physiotherapy to learn how to walk. The Benefits of Disabled Sex neatly sections up into different parts of the boy’s teeange-hood, but I would have welcomed smoother transitions from one story to the next. At times the delivery of the monologue became predictable and very metaphor heavy.
There are no props or set pieces on stage and so the enigmatic Sonny Howes is free to capture the whole stage. He has such quick wit and excellent comedic timing. He plays with the boundaries of language on stage and what you “can” and “can’t” say. For example, would you be cheering away in the audience for a blind Javelin thrower at the Olympics? The script assumes an able bodied audience and addresses you as such, shaping the cheeky character that we see on stage and the world that he lives in.
The powerful conclusion to The Benefits of Disabled Sex crept up on me and totally caught me by surprise. It was brilliant to see the young man finally address all the emotions we could see him bottling up earlier in the play and have them erupt to the surface. In a story about insecurity and hatred, love and sex, friendship and family this comedic performance blew me away.
Recommended Drink: A pornstar martini.
The Benefits of Disabled Sex comes with a content warning for sexual themes, strong language, themes about mental health and eating disorders. Performances at VAULT Festival have now concluded, but keep up with the company on social media for future showings.