Event review: ‘Is Monogamy Dead?’ by Rosie Wilby at the Spread Eagle pub theatre, Friday 12th February

By - Monday 15th February, 2016

A funny show about sex, but it all got a bit frustrating, says Liz Sheppard-Jones

Photo by Rosie Wilby, used with permission.

Billed (well, OK, I said it on Twitter) as the perfect anti-Valentine’s day date, Rosie Wilby‘s latest stand-up gig drew a good crowd at the Spread Eagle pub theatre on Friday 12th February. It’s a great, if slightly eccentric, upstairs theatre space in which audience members cross the stage to take their seats, but it all adds to a sense of fringe-y excitement and the programme of performers continues to impress.

And the minute I walked in, I knew that I’d like this show too: edgy topic, flipchart on the stage and green and red voting cards on every chair for audience participation. Then Rosie appeared, dressed as Dr Love in a white lab coat with goggles and armed with the latest research on our attitudes to the thorny topic of monogamy.

The idea was terrific, and some of the content was spot on, so the reasons why it didn’t quite work take a bit of thinking about.

Darwinian theory favours taller lesbians

Under-rehearsal was the first thing. I think (though I could be wrong) that a couple of times she forgot what came next and faced with an uncertain performer, the audience can’t relax. Then the material was uneven. Looking at what worked first, there were excellently witty observations on phenomena such as the ‘One Penis Rule’ (apparently a guiding principle for those male polyamorists happy for their female partners to have girlfriends but not boyfriends) and a particularly inspired riff on what would happen if lesbians and gay men could produce natural offspring.

(What would happen is this: straight women tend to seek partners taller than they are and research suggests that this looking-up-for-love tendency carries over into the lesbian population. Darwinian theory therefore favours taller lesbians; over time, the sapphic community surges upwards. Meanwhile, straight men expect to be the taller partner and the same carry-over principle operates, with gay men looking downwards, hence giving mating success to smaller gay men. As a group they would therefore grow shorter and shorter until the giant Doc-booted lesbians were in danger of stepping on the teeny gay guys.)

But Rosie made it sound funnier.

I had a grisly flashback to The Two Ronnies

But then there was the relationship satisfaction graph. After a couple of audience members hadn’t given her the responses she needed to make this work, Rosie drew the graph anyway: a high starting point and a big curve down to where she put a blob to mark the low spot of dissatisfaction, which apparently is three years in. (That’s right around the time many people decide to get married… but just call me a horrible, horrible cynic, for that is what I am.) Then, after the blob-spot is passed, the satisfaction graph curves right back up again. At this point she’d drawn a breast, and I had a grisly flashback to The Two Ronnies. We’re not going to be asked to laugh at boobs, are we? But then she drew another, and we were.

The most frustrating bit came at the end, in what could have been a fantastic finale. What is infidelity? It’s something people tend not to discuss, but as Rosie’s research reveals, definitions of cheating differ alarmingly. You can see where this might lead.

Fantasising is cheating? Really? Oops

She presented a list of sexual and romantic activities, covered over with cards blu-tacked to the flipchart. Then the audience was asked to guess what the top three might be. We got there fairly quickly: it turns out that actual sex, kissing and fantasising are regarded as the chief crimes against fidelity. (That in itself confounds me: fantasising is cheating? Really? Oops.) But then there was nowhere to go, apart from to pull off the rest of the cards and say, “Look”.

Better to start with the list and say: “So, this is what surveys show… but do we agree? Number one: actual sex with someone else. Hold up your green card if you think that’s cheating, and your red card if you don’t”. Interesting responses are possible here. Work your way down the list, though, and interesting responses become certain, then the real unease that acute observational comedy can create would steal through the room.

Rosie Wilby is smart and funny. Her stage presence is warm and engaging and she deals nicely with spontaneous crowd stuff, which is always high risk. I’d love to see the show again, this time really max-ing it and being all that it could be.

I hope you had a lovely Valentine’s day. And I hope your partner agrees.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose


    Thanks for reviewing this – I had no idea this was on or else I would have definitely gone along :)

    As with the stuff on display at Croydonites Festival, I love love LOVE that Croydon is becoming home to really challenging plays that discuss and dissect adult themes (whether I agree with their conclusions or not!). How much more wonderful that it’s done in homely pubs as much as in more formal theatre environments!