The Ulster Kama Sutra, With Puppets
Our sexual habits and mores explored in Andrea Montgomery's new show at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
For the last year, Andrea Montgomery of Terra Nova Productions has been travelling around Northern Ireland interviewing people of all ages and backgrounds about sex. Good sex, bad sex and what they think of sex in general.
The final result of all that talking? The Ulster Kama Sutra, a puppet cabaret that runs in White's Tavern in central Belfast from May 3 - 11 as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
'We talked to health practitioners, a group of Hindu women, [members of the] Lesbian Advocacy Services Initiative and young people,' Montgomery ticks off the contributors, who all asked to remain anonymous. 'We've met some really interesting people.'
Montgomery also encountered diverse attitudes towards sex and sexuality during the project. There were couples unable to consummate their marriages, emotional and politic conservatives who nevertheless accepted their partners' non-traditional gender expression, people who thought society was too repressive and people who thought it was too permissive.
A lot of them were funny. 'Laughing at yourself is a social skill in Northern Ireland,' Montgomery notes. It is something she wants to convey in The Ulster Kama Sutra, with monologues, songs and sketches ranging from funny to heart-felt and everything in between.
Everything, that is, except titillating. Some of the sketches might be frank or naughty, but the whole point of The Ulster Kama Sutra – which has a cast of four, who all perform the script via hand puppets – is that it is approachable. The puppets give Montgomery the leeway to be daring, without being shocking, even when using knitted, talking body-part puppets.
'I'm only considering that,' she laughs. 'Maybe it could be a debate between the brain and penis? It would all be very clowny and fun though.'
While the knitted body-parts might not appear on stage at White's Tavern, the other puppets used in the show are ready to go. Sock puppets are used to present the verbatim scenes, taken from workshops and last year's 'Foxy Box of Thoughts' installation at the University of Ulster's Festival of Art and Design, while the sketches use a core of three or four hand puppets.
None of the actors involved in the show are experienced puppeteers, but each have been given a puppet which was designed to resemble them, and can be 'costumed' for each sketch with beards, eyebrows and, Montgomery adds cheekily, 'velcro boobies'.
Montgomery is looking forward to gauging reaction to the puppets – with people encouraged to jot down their thoughts, or graffitti, on the brown-paper covered walls during and after the show. Although the 45 minutes people will see at CQAF is polished, it isn't the finished version.
The Ulster Kama Sutra is still very much a work-in-progress, with the aim being a full-length touring production later this year. The cast of the show describe it as 'Crash-Test Cabaret'. 'Terra Nova like to keep the audience involved in the development process,' Montgomery explains. 'It can be risky, but it's worth it.'
Hopefully, there will also be a chance to add more verbatim testimonies to the show. Montgomery is hoping to get responses from groups of older people, parents...and the church. 'We aren't overtly “taking on” the church,' she hastens to add. 'But at the moment all we have are things other people report about them.'
Montgomery is acutely aware that the themes behind The Ulster Kama Sutra are sensitive ones, but she hopes that people will give it a chance. 'I always thought it was a good idea, right from the start, but I was so shy about explaining it to people...' Montgomery ducks her head and mumbles 'and it's about sex' through her fingers.
Despite her new confidence, however, there's one thing that she isn't willing to talk about. Whether she has given any anonymous verbatim testimony of her own. 'The official answer,' she says with a grin, 'is no.'
The Ulster Kama Sutra is on at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival from May 3 - 11. For more information about the Festival check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On festival guide.