Review: ★★★★ Ad Libido, The Vault Festival

This review was going to start with the phrase “this show is not for the sexually squeamish”, but upon reflection this is exactly who should be going to see this pocket-rocket performance.

Ad Libido is both celebratory and revelatory, and whilst moments bordered on burlesque, with Fran Bushe descending into the audience to sing about the magic penis, there is really nothing to be afraid of here.  It is a bold and exuberant exploration of one woman and her trials and triumphs with Female Sexual Dysfunction, and it manages to be hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure.

Lizzy Leech’s set design is gorgeous: the immediate impression upon entering The Pit was of walking into a sugary pop music video. A gold glittery curtain decorates the back of the stage, and pastel balloons in various pinks float softly on either side. Show programmes on the seats were accompanied by information leaflets about Jo Divine, a sexual health/sexual pleasure company that provide products such as the sachets of lube that were prettily packaged in little net bags for each audience member. This was a fun, welcoming, and unembarrassed touch that set the tone for the piece to come (no pun intended…).

Fran bravely assured us that everything we were about to witness was true, unless she stated otherwise, and boldly took us through a variety show of different scenarios, from a doctors’ waiting room to sex camp. Whilst there were moments that were politicised – for instance, Fran explaining that there are almost no studies on Female Sexual Dysfunction, compared to a myriad of investigation into Erectile Dysfunction – for the most part this felt like a very individual journey rather than a soapbox diatribe. In some of the most personal sections, Fran read extracts from her teenage diaries, which had the audience laughing and cringing in recognition. Most thought provoking though was after reading the section in which she finally lost her virginity, Fran explained how she had glossed over the truth of a painful and unfulfilling encounter. Even in her private diary, it seemed, she felt the pressure to seem to be having great sex, showing how unhelpful and unrealistic societal narratives around sex become internalised.

Musically the show is a real treat, with a variety of styles complimenting different topics: a particular favourite, that was lyrically very clever, was a 1940s style cheery ditty about how to solve sexual problems with an array of bizarre and horrifying products and procedures. There was also a very moving ballad, which was sung beautifully with a rawness and an honesty that was painful to behold. It is one thing to make jokes about sex and sexual problems, and it is another, entirely braver thing to honestly express emotion. Fran moved between the humour and the pathos, the sung and the spoken, with ease and style and should be commended for sharing so openly both the light and the dark of her experiences.

Technically this show was rough around the edges: the wonderful addition of a nostalgic overhead projector led to some frantic shuffling through sheets to find the right pictures for the right moment, voiceovers came on at the wrong time or not loudly enough, and transitions between one moment and the next sometimes felt clunky. At times, the technical seemed to override the performance, with Fran becoming preoccupied with sourcing the right prop rather than connecting fully with the scenario or the script. However, the energy and fun of this truly bonkers show more than make up for the slight technical glitches. Catch it while you can!

Esme Mahoney
Esme Mahoney

Esme Mahoney is a graduate of Drama Centre’s MA Acting course, having previously studied English Literature at the University of Cambridge. Esme has been involved in productions as an actor, director, producer and stage manager – one of her most memorable experiences was as DSM for a production of Lord Of The Flies, in which she was chiefly responsible for putting flaming torches into the hands of children as young as twelve.


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