My abiding memory of sex education at my high school is the relief felt as I managed to avoid being the one selected for the banana demonstration exercise. But in today’s altogether more digital age, teenagers are faced with a much more complex entry into the world of relationships, temptation and sex, particularly as they intersect with a deeper understanding of wider societal issues such as identity, mental health, consent and the use and abuse of social media.
It is into this world that Charlie Josephine’s new play Birds and Bees explodes as four students sit through 45 minutes of after-school detention in the aftermath of a sexting scandal. They’ve been tasked with writing a speech to dissuade their classmates from taking or sharing explicit pictures but warring couple Leilah and Aarron are deep in their feelings, neither of them can stand the nerdy Maisy and non-binary Billy seems just too cool to get drawn into all this drama.
Birds and Bees really does manage that not-inconsiderable fear of seeming naturalistic, authentic even, as it captures a sense of the free-wheeling intensity of teenage life lived constantly under pressure. The ebbs and flows of Josephine’s spoken word slide effortlessly between subjects, with grace and humour and without ever preaching, and approaches its issues sensitively, whether pronouns or peer pressure, whether overtly expressed or debated in inner monologues.
Xana’s pulsating sound design and Rob Watt’s vibrant direction also nail this aspect of the production, the idea of too often being on the precipice of feeling completely overwhelmed and the way in which it is realised is painfully convincing. All four actors – Ike Bennett, Narisha Lawson, Ida Regan and EM Williams – shine in their delivery and physical performance (excellent movement work from Damilola ‘DK’ Fashola) and you’re left with lots to think about, not least how lucky you were to have putting a condom on a banana as your biggest worry.
Birds and Bees is streaming via Soho Theatre on Demand until 28 March 2021.