Louise Orwin – Oh Yes Oh No @ Edfringe 2019

Louise Orwin – Oh Yes Oh No 

ouise Orwin presents 

Louise Orwin 

Oh Yes Oh No 

Cairns Lecture Theatre, Summerhall 

Part of British Council showcase 2019 

3 – 25 August 2019 (not 12 or 19) 

19:20 (20:30)

“Before we start, let’s get this straight: I am performing because I want to perform this, you are here because you want to be here. We will say this is consensual. I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do… You want to do this, don’t you?” 

Oh Yes Oh No explores what it means to have sexual fantasies that don’t align with your politics and looks at how you reclaim your desire after a sexual assault. An explicit, heady mix of pop culture references and Barbie’n’Ken audience role-play. Using audio from real-life interviews Louise conducted all over the UK with those willing to talk openly and honestly about their sex life, Oh Yes Oh No asks difficult questions about desire, rape culture, and wonders who ultimately gets to have a voice.

Challenging the audience to rethink their views on desire, this dark, provocative yet playful work explores a subject which is rarely addressed publicly, especially in the wake of #MeToo. Oh Yes Oh No is for anyone who has ever struggled to find their sexual voice, or questioned the sexual culture they were brought up in.

  1. What was the inspiration for the work?


As with most of my work I think the questions at the heart of the show had been rattling about, forming and reforming in my head for a number of years by the time I began to make the show. Sometimes I feel like the process of making is like a slow unravelling of an idea, or a peeling away of layers to get to a question that’s been trying to form on the tip of your tongue.

With this show in particular, it was this nagging feeling that I wasn’t totally in charge of my desires and sexuality, and the constant questioning and almost quixotic journeying to try to understand where particular desires came from. I knew in some part that my anxious questioning might have been symptomatic of being a survivor of sexual violence, but I wanted to know if other people had similar neuroses around their orgasms, and so began a process of interviewing those willing to talk candidly about their sex lives. I focussed on interviewing those who had had similar experiences to me: from those who were survivors of sexual violence, to those who identified as femme or female, to those who identified as submissives.


The interview process itself was enlightening, hopeful, gruelling, but also always felt cathartic. Over and over again I heard from my interviewees about their own anxiety relating to their own desires and sexuality. I heard about the fear that their desires might not be in line with their politics. I heard about the struggle to reclaim their desire after sexual trauma. I heard about the sneaking feeling that they were conditioned to believe that sexuality was not for them. That their bodies were not for them. Many of my interviewees spoke of how their experience of sexual violence made them or those around them feel as if they shouldn’t be sexual beings anymore. 

Oh Yes Oh No is an attempt to bring some of the most taboo questions around female sexuality and recovering from sexual trauma into the light. It is also an attempt to undo some of the harmful binary thinking around sexual violence and sexual fantasies, and crucially, and it puts the voices of those who feel their voice has been taken away from them at the centre of the work. It asks how we can begin to voice our struggles and questions, and how we can begin to reclaim what is rightfully ours after it has been taken from us. It is about fucking and shame and trauma, and wanting to be expansive and messy and free, both sexually and otherwise, in a culture which is trying to keep you in a box. 



What kind of wider impact in terms of conversations do you hope the work will produce?


I knew from the start that it was important that I didn’t shy away from the material. It is probably my most unapologetic work to date, and though I know that might mean it could be a hard watch for people, I hope that it also feels liberating. Since so much of the work is about shame and the taboo, it felt crucial that I created a piece of work that was bold and provoked discussion. I feel strongly that it is lack of discussion that keeps these ideas and questions behind closed doors, and perpetuates cycles of shame and silencing. I want people to see this work and come out feeling like they need to discuss it, argue over it, come back to it, read up on it. I’m not here to provide answers, or pretend I have the answers, or tie it up neat in a bow. I think people will feel this- it is raw and messy and honest.


How far does the content of the work influence your dramaturgical process? (or – what is the relationship between form and content?)


The content and the form of all my work go hand in hand. I knew that I wanted this work to feel as if you were stuck in the head (possibly my head) of someone struggling to articulate and understand their desire in the face of sexual trauma, and a culture which tells us that sexuality and desire is for men, and that women are there to be desired. 


I position the audience on the inside and outside of this experience. The show begins as an invitation to my audience to step into a world of fantasy role play with me through various means of audience participation, including some crude Barbie and Ken role play. (Fans of my work will recognise this type of audience participation as classic ‘Louise Orwin’ dramaturgy). As the show goes on the theatrical devices I set up around this role play begin to crumble and distort, as the show’s themes and questions begin to appear and disappear, distort and crumble as well.

ohyesohno dolls credit Field and McGlynn.jpg


How does this show relate to your usual process or content?


It was with this piece of work that I began to see an unconscious thread reveal itself- Oh Yes Oh No feels like the third in a trilogy of works around femininity and violence, and the relationship between the two. There are themes that are in this piece of work which have been present in past works: the willing female masochist, a sense of manipulative or coercive audience participation, a preoccupation with power play. And then in terms of process: a playful feeling of pushing against the bounds or rules of conventional theatre, the creation of a structure (such as autocues) with its own rules and limitations which are then pushed to its limits through being exploded or forced to fail. I have played with all these things in many works, and they still feeling like exciting ways to question the unwritten rules of our cultural landscape: whether that’s the scripted hyper-gendered roles society sets for us, or the insidious, suffocating bounds of ‘polite’ society. 


In many ways this show feels like a crystallisation of a question that was at the heart of previous works. And I definitely feel it is my boldest, most unapologetic, work to date. I don’t want to give too much away but I think fans of previous work will see the audience participation in particular as a logical development and refinement of the participation in A Girl & A Gun and Pretty Ugly.


I get told a lot that my work makes people, and men in particular, uncomfortable…. And I reckon I’ve probably managed to do that again with Oh Yes Oh No! But this is a discomfort which is super important to me and to the work, and I hope people watching will understand that.


What makes you want to make theatre rather than another art?


I’ve dabbled with other art forms- video and photography primarily- but theatre still feels the most interesting medium for the themes I’m currently exploring. With Oh Yes Oh No in particular, it seems important that the work is theatrical, because so much of the content is concerned with the idea of creating fantasy spaces and taking on or playing roles within your sex life, which is obviously exactly what we do when we make or go to the theatre. I’m still excited by the idea that theatre can provide conventions or structures for us to play with or play against in the work, which mimic the structures we play with or against in our everyday lives. In the making of Oh Yes Oh No I was obsessed with the idea that some people could happily fence off their sex lives from their everyday lives (thus changing the politics in each of those spaces).

This is one of the ideas that is being sold by a burgeoning sex positivity movement. But for me, and for those who have experience sexual violence (and I’m sure for others beyond those remits too), this is something that is really hard to do. For me, there aren’t fixed boundaries between the two, they are porous and are constantly moving. This idea is played with in in the show in terms of the fencing off of roles and rules in the theatrical space: how far can we fence off what happens in and outside of a theatre space? What is the difference between being asked to role play Barbie and Ken between two strangers on stage (a performer and an audience member), and two consenting strangers role playing outside of the theatre? I believe these questions can help to highlight the hidden power structures that exist around us at all times. 


I also like the idea that theatre can become fantasy space where we get to test out new ideas, play with different version of ourselves; where we can safely be pulled apart and maybe (hopefully) be put back together in slightly different form, slightly changed on the other side. 


Is theatre – and the Fringe – a good place to provoke conversations?


YES. I think the thing that makes me a theatre junkie, is that I love how it can provide such visceral responses and reactions. I love the idea and feeling of being part of a mass of bodies in a room, responding to a visceral feast of sound and light and movement. For me this is good theatre. Theatre that you can’t hide from, that you are part of, that changes you, maybe that even makes you feel complicit. I’ve played with this in Oh Yes Oh No- we created a specific sound design to place the interview audio and thus the voices of those I interviewed not just at the heart of the work, but in the heart of the space itself. Audiences should feel immersed in that audio, and thus I hope, closer to it literally and metaphorically. 


I feel slightly torn on the Fringe thing. On the one hand, I make work that is political and so I want it to be seen as widely as possible and the Fringe is amazing for that. I will get a wider spectrum of people seeing the work here than anywhere else I perform (and not to mention MORE PEOPLE obviously), and this coupled with a culture of natural discussion and dissection that happens in the other spaces around the fringe (Summerhall Courtyard being a big one) makes it a great space for artists who make work specifically to provoke discussion and heated debate. I guess the flipside of this though, is I wonder how useful it is to see so much work back to back as many audiences do here, especially with shows like this one which may take a bit of time to process. When I tour the show normally, we keep the auditorium as a space for people to sit in afterwards (with gentle music and the lights down low), if they want to gather themselves, or sit with it a bit before heading back out into the real world. It doesn’t feel like there’s anywhere to do that at the Fringe sadly. 

Louise mouth landscape credit Field and McGlynn

Either way, I look forward to provoking some heated debates this year. I think I can confidently say this about my work now- it’s classic marmite work. But love it or hate it- it does it job when it gets people talking. And to use a term from kink, I’d rather that than make ‘vanilla’ work any day.

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