Having sat down in Theatre 2 at HOME I have a quick introduction to Sam who is politely engaging with a number of audience members. We exchange names and pleasantries before Sam heads to the microphone on stage. This winner of Total Theatre Award for an Emerging Company/Artist 2017 is also Sleepy Boy who wants to suck cock, 22, bisexual in E1.
Welcome to Sam who is curious about how he engages with others in the world and how humans connect with each other especially in a technologised world. Standing barefoot on stage in t-shirt and dungarees he appears slightly vulnerable but also quite detached from the words he speaks as he leads us through 5 sexual encounters with various men.
There is a lot of audience participation and although Sam is keen to create a “safe” and “democratic” space for this theatrical exploration/group therapy session, I am not certain how comfortable or safe everyone actually was. Of course theatre is there to push boundaries and allow for new experiences but there were moments when boundaries may have have blurred between cooperation and coercion. The intriguing aspect of this is how conscious or not Sam and the participants were as this is also a performance about power dynamics in relationships.
There are some endearing moments in this piece such as when Sam sits on a picnic rug with a participant. They feed each other grapes as he asks questions from the 36 Questions that lead to Love based on the work of psychologist Arthur Aron and others. The theory is that humans can accelerate intimacy by mutual vulnerabilty or sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure. Demonstrations of romance and emotional intimacy are evoked in various creative ways alongside the cool, factual descriptions of perfunctory sexual acts.
There are other elements that seem to work less well such as some of the props the participants are told to use on stage that seem like random, naive ideas that are irrelevant to the actual performance. The nudity also felt slightly awkward, not because it was nudity on stage but simply because it seemed unnecessary at that point in the narrative.
The overall sense of 5 Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist is of a piece that is still evolving as the performer absorbs more from each audience and possibly from the contents of the boxes on stage holding the answers to Question 22. Watching this pale, blond young man in his simple attire made me think of the David Bowie character in The Man Who Fell to Earth who walked quietly amongst us as an Alien absorbing and reflecting on what makes us human.