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  • Jack Starr

Birds and Bees Theatre Review – a Creative Take on the State of British Sex Education

Photography by Chris Saunders

In the last decade or two, life has changed radically – especially for young people. For the first time, a generation is being raised in a world connected by smartphones and social media, and educators can’t keep up with the new challenges presented by the modern world – first and foremost, how to deal with the subject of sex.

This is what Charlie Josephine’s Birds and Bees sets out to tackle. This new play, produced by Theatre Centre in collaboration with Sheffield Theatres, demonstrates the anxieties of a group of teenagers in the aftermath of an incident involving a classmate having their explicit pictures leaked online.

Leilah (Dumile Sibanda) is the best friend of the victim of the incident, and she suspects her boyfriend Aarron (Richard Logun) may have had something to do with it. As a young man coming-of-age, Aarron feels his friendship group is becoming toxic, and is struggling with his relationship with internet pornography. Billy (Milo McCarthy) is a fourth-wall-breaking, non-binary teenager who laments the state of sex education in their school, and seeks a more open and inclusive approach. Maisy (Sandra Belarbi) is a typical prefect figure: middle-class, uninterested in sex, and worrying every waking minute over her grades and future prospects.

Photography by Chris Saunders

The tension between these characters is staged symbolically with a colourful tangle of crossed wires the cast occasionally play with and tug around as they converse. The play makes excellent use of staging and lighting, with creative motifs used to convey the conflict between characters – particularly impressive is the depiction of anxiety, with sound effects and distressing lighting that expertly communicates the abrasiveness of the characters’ internal conflicts.

The plot occasionally meanders between character arguments and fourth-wall breaks, dissecting the theatre medium as a whole and resulting in the characters – quite literally – tearing up the script to make their own ending. It’s creative, and while its focus occasionally veers off, it knows how to throw unexpected twists and witty moments at you.

But what holds it all together is the characters. All four members of the casts are near-perfectly formed archetypes, with character traits and quirks any teenager would recognise in their own friendship groups, yet they are deeper and more developed than expected. Leilah seems like an average gossipy, Instagram-obsessed girl, but reveals herself as far smarter and more articulate than everyone assumes. Aarron is a football-obsessed lad who carries the bigotry and negative attitudes of his peers, but shows emotional depth as we learn of his struggles adapting into manhood. Billy gives a fantastic representation of non-binary identity, and gives us some moving twists and turns as we delve into their identity. Maisy, with an obnoxious superiority complex, gets taught a few lessons by the other students, despite her looking down on them. It’s satisfying to see the characters learn and grow, much like the young intended audience.

It’s truly the characters, and the way that this group of young actors so convincingly fit into these personas, that make this play shine. The way they interact, and the clever trickery – through both the script and the stage production – help this play avoid becoming a lecture, instead elevating it to a rare spot, one where it is engaging, funny, and informative. Essentially, it’s the play many of us needed to see when we were teenagers. For a young audience, it really hits the nail on the head.

Photography by Chris Saunders

Birds and Bees was written by Charlie Josephine, and directed by Rob Watt. Staged in the Tanya Moseiwitsch Playhouse at the Crucible, it is a collaboration between Theatre Centre and Sheffield Theatres.

If you are aged 16-26, you can get tickets for only £5 through the Live for Five deal. See for more information.


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