When I cast my mind back to sex education in school, the only things we were taught was how to put a condom on a banana and about the menstrual cycle.
Lucy Danser‘s blistering play If This Is Normal shows how woefully inadequate this is in preparing teenagers for adulthood, and how talking about sex is still a taboo subject. Mutual, willing consent isn’t discussed, we’re not familiar with our own bodies, and teenagers turn to porn to learn about pleasuring their partners. These all have profound consequences.
*This play has a trigger warning, as it discusses sexual assault/rape and domestic abuse*
Delivered in monologues between three actors, Danser’s play begins as a comedy, showing how the trio meet in primary school. Starting a new school is often a nerve-wracking time, and it’s this bond that creates a friendship between Alex (Aoife Smyth), Maryam (Zarima McDermott) and her brother, Madani (Isambard Rawbone).
The friendship endures for over ten years, as If This Is Normal nostalgically whisks us through their elation of finishing school, the nervousness of results day, the apprehension of starting university, and the unabated joy of getting ready for a night out. But this is a friendship that will be challenged when Alex and Madani start a relationship.
Danser’s excellent writing shifts tone as her play’s themes become more serious and hard-hitting, treating difficult issues with care and respect. In an increasingly polarised society, it is refreshing to see If This Is Normal avoid singling out and blaming characters for their actions.
Instead, it encourages nuanced conversation about how complicated and confusing some of these issues can be. Danser focuses on how societal issues can create unrealistic expectations and problems for first-time relationships, and how this lack of understanding can inflict destruction inflicted on all parties involved.
The compelling performances by Aoife Smyth, Zarima McDermott, and Isambard Rawbone are all exemplary, with each actor capturing their character’s growth through adolescence as they forge their own personalities. Creating what feels like an authentic friendship, the trio excel in the play’s comedic moments, yet also sensitively portray the difficult, emotionally hard-hitting scenes too.
If This Is Normal is a fantastic, powerful play that is skillfully written and performed. It maintains the delicate balance between comedy and discussing complex, profound themes. It’s a play that is stylistically minimalist, with only three chairs for a set, ensuring that its message of sexual consent remains undiluted.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
If This Is Normal will be performed at Liverpool’s Royal Court theatre on 3rd May 2022. For more information, please visit Chatback Theatre’s website.