Awkward Conversations does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s five 15-minute monologues addressed to five mammalian sexual partners by a young zoophile. Chris Born is irresistible in the solo role of Bobby, moving round the stage with a convincing mixture of physicality and vulnerability that carries the audience through the weaker moments in the script.
The play is superficially a parody of the 21st-century morning after, twisted by the human-animal sexual dynamic into something funnier, darker and more thought-provoking. Concerned that he will return from his shower to an empty flat, Bobby implores his first zoological notch on the bedpost, a stray dog, to “stay”. This punning, silly and effective at first, does start to wear thin, but Born puts in immense effort to maintain the pace and intensity required to keep drawing his audience into his disturbed sexual world.
Director Nisha Emich does a fine job of charting Bobby’s journey through a list of increasingly incongruous lovers, in particular through the representation of the intercourse with strobe lighting, pounding club music and Born’s suggestive animalistic ‘twitching’. The funny moments start coming less frequently, Bobby becomes more and more isolated from the world outside his bedroom, more terrified of the police and his neighbours, and undergoes a kind of evolution in reverse: in the final monologue he drops to all fours for a period. However, he rarely ceases to be a relatable character, above all when he is most vulnerable, and the most moving part of the entire play comes towards the end when he opens up about his dysfunctional childhood.
To what can we attribute Bobby’s decline – his zoophilia itself, or society’s attitude towards it? Even more provocatively, could the play have had another ending, one where he and one of his animal partners wind up in a stable, loving relationship on a farm somewhere? I feel the play didn’t go far enough in answering that. It’s neither risky nor difficult to ask uncomfortable questions of the audience about bestiality, as long as zoophilia is presented as a kind of tragic flaw and nothing comes from it in the end.
With MPs’ recent decision to vote to allow babies to be created with DNA from three parents, the play takes on a very topical significance: where do we as a society want to draw the sexual, erotic, and reproductive lines that should not be crossed? We can look at societal attitudes towards homosexuality two generations ago and wonder how we will see bestiality two generations from now, and while the lack of sufficiently objective consent in the latter is obviously a major problem, I feel that our stance on bestiality is far less rational and far more instinctive than that. What, then, does that mean about the future of zoophilia, and more generally about the ways in which we should and shouldn’t have sex? Seeing Awkward Conversations is a good way to get thinking about it.
Awkward Conversations is on at the Corpus Playroom, 9.30 p.m. until the 7 February. Get your tickets online here.