Monday, November 25, 2019

Two Fingers Up … to staid and inadequate sex education that prepares no one for love nor life

Welcome to an hour of self-discovery as three young women look back over the education system’s lacklustre attempt to prepare them for growing up. Two Fingers Up remembers the silence and discomfort in the classroom, from priests and parents and their own friends who talk a good game but are fumbling in the dark when it comes to understanding what’s happening to their bodies and minds.

There’s a frankness and honesty about their wild misconceptions, vaginas (“my Mum says theiy’re hidden for a reason”), gratuitously texted dick pics (that look “nothing like the dicks [they] draw in school”) received from boys (who are excluded from ‘the talk’ girls receive in P7 about puberty) whose ignorance hides in the shadow of their boasting, and unanswered questions about human anatomy, and the mechanics of periods never mind satisfaction. Even in the age of chat rooms and websites, misunderstandings persisted as this generation grew up.

The pace moves swiftly as they shift from childhood to adulthood before the threesome hit overdrive with bursts of song like When your lips hang low (probably funnier and cleverer than anything you’ll see on stage this Christmas), an incomplete and shaming lesson from Love For Life, and a rip-roaring visit to Ann Summers (another source of deceitful notions).

Co-produced by Prime Cut Productions and Tinderbox Theatre Company in Dublin Fringe Festival, Two Fingers Up was back in Belfast for one night at the Brian Friel Theatre.

Orla Graham strikes great poses while playing the delightfully matter-of-fact Sharon, and twists her mouth around the raft of other characters that populate the girls’ universe. Hayley is queen of the understatement and the long pause, played to a tee by Shannon Wilkinson who impressed this time last year in PintSized Production’s Wasted.

Leader of the pack is Leah, a young woman who steps forward into the unknown as much as she is pushed by peer pressure. Sarah Reid demonstrates a flair for physical comedy as she exaggerates movements and rolls her eyes with confusion, disgust and sometimes even joy.

Overlapping dialogue emphasises the closeness of teenage friends. Written and directed by Seón Simpson and Gina Donnelly, the cast and creatives make fannies funnier than is normally permitted. The writing is intelligent, the awkward yet never ribald situations certainly resonating with tonight’s student-aged audience who roared with recognition. By putting two fingers up to stiff, staid and incomplete education, the writers deliver a frank yet accessible lesson in sex education that no teacher would dare to host in a school.

Which begs the question: in a world constantly labelled as hyper-sexualised, and with a sex-obsessed internet which offers no context or explanation for the graphic insights it contains, should the education system really continue to value ignorance over understanding and rely on inadequate contracted-in lessons? And are parents really so uptight that we’d prefer old fashioned attitudes to prevail rather than learn from our own flops?

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