Willy Hudson’s one-man-show, written and performed with humour, charm and the occasional twinge of self-deprecation, would appear at face value to be a highly personal reflection on gay culture, relationships and sex. Take a closer look, however, and it turns out to be much more than that. Perhaps a show whose premise is the question of whether one’s sexual preferences seriously impact his identity through his whole life is not the place where it would be most expected to find a reflection on class inequality and how it poisons the lives of too many of us, and yet there it is, exploding towards the end in a highly emotional, powerful moment that lingers after the end of the show.
In the same way, Hudson takes a broader look at all the different facets and factors that complicate the matter – the hypocritical, objectifying fetishisation of gay men by those who deem them little more than an amusing curiosity, the anxieties attached with relationships in an overly frantic time in which superficiality appears to be a need more than a trend, the ways in which we suffocate those anxieties through means that are at times far from healthy. The way in which we don’t really want any of it, but we find ourselves playing a game that we’ve been taught is fundamental to our lives and our self-values, by rules that we haven’t set. While the show places all of this within the context of gay culture – a context it has a charming way of introducing and explaining, mercilessly exposing its problematic sides without ever losing an affectionate look on it – a lot of this will be relevant, I suspect, to audiences regardless of their sexual orientation. We’ve all been through the impersonal pain of casual connections established through an app or a drunken night out; we’ve all felt alone in a box room after an overlong day juggling too many jobs for too little money.
Bottom is a show about sexual identity, and sexual roles, but at the same time is also a show about masculinity in the wider sense, and the difficulty of fitting oneself into the too-tight box of a stereotype of masculinity, whether it is an overly charged, mandatorily rough and confident one, or one that is forced to surrender any form of ‘canonical’ masculinity to assert itself. Hudson’s performance is defiant of stereotypes, and sits squarely at mid-point between the two extremes, defying the audience to categorise him – while at the same time highlighting the pain of not being able to easily fit a predetermined category. Including a modicum of audience interaction, it makes the audience participate of the sense of slight awkwardness that accompanies its tale, then of the feeling of its more intimate, more poignant moments. It’s a charming, smooth performance, easy at first, then cutting when it has to be.
Director Rachel Lemon guides the show through a whirlwind of suggestive lighting, pop music, and smooth scene transitions. There is a clever and at times unexpected use of stage props, prominent among which a pink ukulele and a jar of chocolate spread. For a show that relies on very simple visuals, there is a great ability to make those visuals as impactful as possible. This is certainly for a good part due to Hudson’s confident, energetic stage presence, making the most of a relatively small space and turning it to his advantage.
It’s a poignant, sincere show, surprisingly stark at times, genuinely amusing at others, which leaves a number of intriguing open questions on what it means to seek a relationship, to come to terms with one’s sexual orientation, and ultimately, to be human in our time and society.
Until March 30