Imagine a world obsessed with cabbage. Arguably defined by cabbage. Poets and oil painters are inspired by the vegetable as they create their great works. The problem is you don’t care for cabbage. It might sound bizarre. But swap cabbage for sex and suddenly it’s an incredibly accessible way of explaining how some people experience their asexuality.
The idea is one of the highlights of James Reilly’s deeply personal one-man show In The Plus. Reilly’s ambition is clear. Celebrate one of the identities and orientations represented by the plus in LGBTQ+. He absolutely achieves that and will surely educate his audience at the same time.
However, there’s also potential here for something greater and more powerful. Potential that isn’t quite met.
The show opens with an audio montage of asexuality being discussed in popular culture. Gillian Anderson in Netflix’s Sex Education explains that if sex doesn’t make us whole there’s no way we can be broken just because we don’t crave it. Any assumption, on the part of the audience, that there isn’t a problem nowadays with accurate representation is soon dashed.
Reilly’s entrance makes clear his experience. A David Attenborough-style voiceover describes a ‘rare’ sighting of the asexual and explains its ‘strange’ behaviour. In reality, the show reveals 1% of the earth’s population – the same number of people who live in Great Britain – identify as asexual.
Interspersing monologue with clowning routines and interpretive dance, In The Plus gives a glimpse into how this community feels and is viewed.
In The Plus comes alive with passion during intimate anecdotes but the energy is, unfortunately, not sustained throughout.
The undeniable heart of the show dissipates during some of the extended audio clip sequences. One excerpt on asexual plant reproduction breaks a beautiful moment of connection between Reilly and the audience and it isn’t the only occasion that happens.
That being said, there are some very powerful moments. Reilly jogging faster and faster on the spot as he struggles to keep up with society’s expectations or reacting with what appears to be shamed sadness to the voice of a man telling someone who is asexual: “I just feel bad for you”.
There’s also a sequence where the audience is asked to push cake into the face of the show’s creator, in the same way as sex is thrust into all our faces. Like it or not.
The show explores plenty of interesting themes and ideas, including the notion that sexualised Pride events can be unwelcoming. When these are tackled in a personal way, they are very powerful.
In The Plus ends with a beautiful dance and cake finale. Cake is an important theme. But the show would be all the sweeter if the emotion and power was sustained throughout the running time.
In The Plus runs until 13th July 2022. The Greater Manchester Fringe runs until 31st July 2022. Tickets can be found at www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk
Reviewer: Peter Ruddick
Reviewed: 12th July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★