In the past 10 to 15 years, there have been a number of shows that explored female sexuality, both in terms frankness regarding sex-positive language and appetites, as well as what constitutes ‘abnormal’ behaviour… But while shows like Fleabag and The Vagina Monologues are perhaps the most well-known examples of this ‘genre’, they certainly don’t encapsulate the full spectrum of feminine sexuality.
Written by Kim Cormack and directed by Lotte Ruth Johnson, The Big O focuses on Lucy (Jade Dowsett-Roberts) a 30-something woman who has an active sex life. However, she also has had anorgasmia for many years, which leads to the question: why does someone who is unable to achive a state of orgasm spend so much time pretending to have them? Despite her initial misgivings, Lucy goes to see Dinah (Anna Bernard) – a sex therapist.
In many ways, Lucy is an ‘everywoman’ – complex, someone who likes to think he can’t be pigeonholed and has issues that are not visible to the naked eye. And while Lucy is happy to talk about positions and various intimate details with her friends, a willingness to be honest with herself is a more daunting proposition for her. To be ‘still’ and let the thoughts and feelings she’s suppressed rise to the surface and given ‘full expression’ is enough to engender an adverse physicial reaction.
But while Lucy is on her own personal odyssey of self-discovery, her friends Dee (Lisa Spence) and Annie (Esmée Cook) have yet to grasp the merit of taking stock of their love lives and not thinking about sex in a purely ‘recreational’ activity.
There are a number of ‘anecdotes’ about sex from a feminine persepctive to savour, but The Big O is so much more than a catalogue of embarrassing incidents or vivid recollections of ‘dating’. Through the character of Lucy, we’re privy to the seldom-discussed topics such as women having the same number of sexual partners as men, ‘contrary’ opinions about the qualities sought in a lover and the long-term, deep-rooted effects of sexual trauma in later life.
Lucy’s circumstances, however, are not without hope or the capacity for change. She reveals that despite the pain from breaking up with her boyfriend, she’s grateful for the relationship as it opened her eyes to the fact that at its best, every aspect of their time together was better than anything else she had experienced – that ‘the bar’ had in fact been raised. That insight means she can’t now settle for second best. Through pain and positive experience there’s hope for Lucy. There’s hope for us all.
© Michael Davis 2023
The Big O ran at Belgrade Theatre from 4th to 6th April.