Your Sexts Are Sh*T: Older Better Letters
Royal Exchange Exchange, Manchester
The concept, and a fair bit of the content, of Your Sexts Are Sh*T: Older Better Letters seems like stating the obvious: letters are far better as a means of seduction or arousal than messages sent by text. As letters are written by hand, there is time for concentration and articulation and to develop nuance so the content can be romantic as well as erotic. Text messages being tossed off (so to speak) with little care and, prone to the perils of spellcheck, can be unintentionally funny rather than arousing.
Although author Rachel Mars is the sole performer and uses a microphone throughout, there is no danger of Your Sexts Are Sh*T: Older Better Letters being mistaken for stand-up comedy. Mars reads out, rather than recites, the letters in a warm, coaxing, come-hither voice with slightly raunchy pop songs playing in the background. The Sexts on the other hand are projected onto a screen in a cool, stark presentation.
Mars does not articulate any arguments to prove a point but rather allows the material to speak for itself. The letters are read with care to achieve maximum impact while the Sexts pop up on screen like a series of gags leading to a punchline. It is hard to miss the point that letters are for grown-ups while Sexts are more abrupt, less personal and better suited to people in a hurry or with short attention spans.
The letters range from deeply erotic to waxing philosophical about love but include also some startling content. A letter from Brother Augustine to someone with whom he is infatuated sounds like the tormented monk is risking not just secular censure but spiritual damnation. A teenage Marcel Proust somehow thought it appropriate to write to his grandfather for a loan to cover the cost of a visit to a brothel; justifying the visit by explaining it was to break his masturbation habit.
Mars alternates the readings with snippets of autobiography setting out her sexual preferences. Rather than a dry recitation, however, this is delivered in a purring tone as she sets about seducing the audience.
Some of the points made in the play seem a bit obvious. Mozart is known to have had a childish need to shock with scatological humour so it is hardly surprising this comes across in his letters. James Joyce was a great writer so his ability to turn out deeply stimulating, if utterly filthy, erotica is hardly a shock. Mars makes a feminist point by drawing attention to the fact that Joyce’s letters were preserved, unlike the replies of his lover, Nora Barnacle. One suspects, however, this may have less to do with gender and more literary reputation.
The Sexts projected onto the screen are so hilariously counter-productive as to raise doubts about their viability as a means of seduction. They are a means of instant communication and so, unlike letters which are intended to be read in privacy, may catch the respondent off-guard. A lover, invited to imagine what they would do if together in a car, destroys the mood with the honest reply : ‘’Probably argue’’. Spellcheck corrects the name ‘Rachael’ to ‘rabid’. The overwhelming impression is that texts are used as a means of instant glib communication and so are singularly unsuited to the serious business of being sexy.
Your Sexts Are Sh*T: Older Better Letters goes to show that sometimes the old ways are the best.
Reviewer: David Cunningham