In the Plus

James Reilly
James Reilly
Lock 91, Manchester

In the Plus

Asexual—someone who does not experience sexual attraction toward individuals of any gender—sounds like the premise of an extremely old comedy stand-up "Ah, you’ve met my wife" routine. James Reilly’s autobiographical play presents the concept as a journey towards an identity.

In The Plus details how Reilly’s conflicted approach towards sex began in school, where he tentatively considered if he was straight or gay, and was finally resolved in university when he encountered the concept of asexuality.

Using his parents as an example, Reilly demonstrates how rarely the concept is understood as his attempt to come out as asexual meets a bemused response. Reilly’s approach to sex is a similar puzzled attitude—someone who cannot understand what the fuss is about. Yet sex is often perceived as a physical demonstration of love—an act of passion. In The Plus remains intellectual and curious rather than driven in tone.

There is increasing pressure upon artists to achieve authenticity and demonstrate a lived experience in their work. Possibly this explains Reilly’s heavy dependence upon pre-recorded interviews with, and speeches by, people who identify as asexual. The show, therefore, feels less like a full script than extracts from one supplemented by the voice-overs.

Sections of the play involve Reilly wordlessly standing on stage while the voice-overs play. On occasion, he fills the time well; as a spoof voice-over in David Attenborough style identifies asexual character traits, Reilly preens around the stage in the manner of a wild bird trying to attract a mate. In most cases, however, Reilly’s actions—running, making abstract movements and even just sitting on stage—have little in common with the speeches and add little to their content.

The humour in the play borders on the surreal. There is speculation about how an asexual candidate might function on Love Island. As an asexual, Reilly prefers a nice cake to sex and in one sequence invites patrons to push cakes into his face.

Reilly’s approach is introspective, trying to solve a puzzle rather than ease torment. Discovering a community to which he can relate is an obvious relief but not very dramatic. The reliance on recorded voice-overs and limited on-stage action further reduces the tension. In The Plus makes points in a low-key manner which may not engage an audience not already predisposed to the viewpoint.

Reviewer: David Cunningham