Tobogganing teenagers. If you don't have them at home, you read and hear about them in the media. The phone provides them with thousands of impressions a day, but the constant in history remained: for Generation Z, little attracts attention as much as sex. Or Sex?
This language question begins the performance by HNTjong, the youth company of Het Nationale Toneel in The Hague. Not for nothing is the title English-speaking: that x makes all the difference to the Dutch 'sex', we learned back in 1995 when creating first 'content' for the internet: it was much more clicked on. Clicking became swiping, but sex/sex remained attractive.
Did generations from the 1960s onwards think that handling sex would become freer and easier all the time, judging by Let's talk about sex you can put a question mark on that. It is not sex, but insecurity about it that is the common thread of this lively musical performance. But as an older person, I have little right to speak, let alone judge. A 16-year-old with whom I got to enjoy the premiere put it this way:
Learning to talk correctly
"Sex is a very normal topic these days, isn't it? From an early age, children hear and learn about it and have access to whatever sex images they want. Talking about it used to be one of the few ways to learn more about it, nowadays talking about it is less natural; why should you?
Instead, HNTJong calls attention to communicating about sex. The five actors seek the universal feeling of discomfort when we talk about it, without joking or twisting, seriously. Dialogues in Let's talk about sex are pointedly phrased and address issues without emphasising the notion of diversity that often recurs in art these days: after all, surely everyone has similar thoughts about sex, and first experiences? That one time two young women talk about their sex, then a white woman and coloured man, is perfectly natural in a modern play.
However, the dialogues in this play, while often humorous, do remain on the surface: "How did you like it?" and "What do you call it? I think 'dick' is such an aggressive word." With songs like "If only you could see me when no one is looking at me" and "Sweet may I borrow your eyes for a moment..." and "Is it really in there now?" the actors and the band Prince S. and The Goat with vocals by Scott Beekhuizen touch on exactly the insecurities everyone recognises.
Fortunately, the whole performance does not feel as if writer Peer Wittenbols is pointing a camera at us in intimate moments. When, at the end of the show, dick costumes crawl onto the stage to attack the singer, or experiments with the striking number of ways to say the word "naked" in the song "Nude Beach", the tension of uncertainty about sex itself sinks in."
Formerly less insecure?
In terms of form and content, this senior found the performance directed by Noël Fischer surprising: the dramaturgy is dominated by musicality and the individual songs/fragments of young actors Yamill Jones, Diewertje Dir, Kimberley Agyarko, Jelle Hoekstra and Scott Beekhuizen do not form a story as in a play. Has it been? Either way, it was enjoying HNTjong.
In terms of content, there is hardly any sex, but all the more expression of insecurity. I find this endearing, but hope that open-mindedness may prevail over displayed crampedness in practice. On the way back, we talked about first kissing and sex experiences before and now. Yes, we were insecure, of course, but as far as I remember - but that is unreliable, of course - did not express that. Good thing this performance does show that.
Relief was there after the performance with an infectiously enthusiastic HNT director Cees Debets filling up the stage for a 'group photo' of everyone who had contributed to HNTjong's tenth anniversary. A bright future shines. Young people dominated the audience, albeit - by some estimates - slightly older than Gen Z, but the atmosphere was more upbeat and spontaneous than with the generation that usually forms the main bulk of the theatre audience.