Ad Libido‘s superb structuring, relentless creativity and unmitigated rigour ensures it’s as didactic, thought-provoking and genuinely affirming as one could hope for.
Fran Bushe’s quasi-autobiographical Ad Libido adeptly deconstructs a taboo which continues to receive next to no mainstream attention, despite the increase in feminist discourse that we’re (finally) fortunate enough to be experiencing.
This urgent, vivacious and superbly well-crafted solo show at this year’s VAULT Festival unequivocally reminds audiences that female sexual dysfunction is very much a thing. It affects a ⅓ of women (including our writer-performer) – but is persistently omitted from art, from media and therefore from general consciousness. Arguing that we can attribute this absence directly to structural failings and inequalities, we learn that 24 medically approved disorders exist for men – but the attention spared to comparable afflictions for women are decades, even lifetimes, behind.
Perhaps the overriding beauty of Ad Libido lies is the ever-inventive ways Bushe finds to relay troubling statistics, astute insight plus genuinely helpful educational info. Sections never feel ‘lecturey’, or overly academic, or patronising – yet the piece manages to be superbly didactic, provocative and a fascinating mix of tender and satisfyingly angry at the same time. Most importantly for Bushe, I’m sure though, I imagine it really would be a genuinely affirming hour for those similarly affected. You really get the impression that’s how she’d define ‘success’ with this show – the passion and desire for actual change and conversation is palpable, and very easy to get behind.
The aesthetic is celebratory, triumphant and beautifully naff. Perhaps there are A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) influences at play here, but every design decision is justified and astute. Bushe is almost trapped within a jungle of inflated (erect?) balloons, an overhead projector is used superbly to simultaneously educate and entertain during one of the performance’s setpieces and even the pop-up tent looks indisputably vaginal. Other production elements (some lovely sound design from Annie May Fletcher, and comically obnoxious lighting decisions from Peter Small) compliment each other – and the writing – brilliantly. Nothing ever dominates, but everything constantly adds weight to the piece’s endeavour: to tackle this taboo face on, and without any hesitation.
Both Bushe’s writing and performance quality have an almost classical, elevated and sermon-like feel to them – and I loved her ability to deliver every line, even the happy silly ones, with a palpable underlying frustration. The musical moments (some of the lyrics are absolutely sensational) are more often-than-not sung through gritted teeth – and the ‘I’ve disappeared’ moment serves as a much-needed and touching ‘low’ moment.
I could go on about Ad Libido until the cows come home, but it’s just the sort of piece where you revel at the theatre making on display. The structuring, its aforementioned relentless inventiveness and the clear rigour behind Bushe’s process and craft. It’s all just ace.