When I first heard that V-Card was a radio play I was intrigued, but a little doubtful. How would the play experience work with just audio? More importantly, would it still be enjoyable for an audience of one, with only a laptop screen to look at?
I’m pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised. Alison Hall’s comedy-drama is refreshing, thought-provoking, and actually laugh-out-loud funny.
With a radio play, the script becomes an all-important tool. Without the back-up of visual comedy or any kind of set design, the language really has to speak for itself. But with the combination of an intelligent, snappy script and some incredible voice acting from the cast, this choice of medium never felt like a problem. In fact, so much is gained from the sound medium- it means that it’s all down to the listener’s imagination, aided by some pretty fantastic sound effects. The play has everything from loud slobbery kisses, to the sounds of masturbation, all of which helps to create a whole world for these characters to work within.
The play captures a uniquely relatable landscape of ‘university realism’, complete with fairy lights, drinking, and various sexual adventures. As the name suggests, V-Card tackles the constructions of virginity among students, with the premise of protagonist Hazel (voiced by Ellie Fullwood) asking her friends to help her have sex before she turns 20. Inevitable mayhem ensues, with a range of realistic, vivid interactions that take place as Hazel navigates the strange world of sex and relationships.
Hazel’s bisexuality offers some much-needed bi-visibility, and also creates a wonderfully nuanced, realistic portrait of sexual experience, especially when the traditional narrative about virginity has a tendency to be incredibly phallocentric.
Nick is also a highlight, a terrible ‘puppet-master’ character, whose voice seems to drip with sleaze. Incredibly, the same actor (Lorcan Cudlip Cook) also takes on the role of God- who sounds a bit like Patrick Stewart. He appears in Hazel’s Catholic-guilt dream sequences, alongside Jesus and Satan no less. These scenes work wonderfully with the imaginative potential of the sound-only medium and create some of the stand-out moments of the play. It was especially funny to hear God swear, and dodge questions about the problem of evil and suffering on earth.
The sounds of spontaneous human interactions provide a much-needed reminder of what life was like pre-Covid, with countless chance-encounters and awkward flirting opportunities. And some elements of the play feel even more prevalent now we’re in Lockdown 2- particularly when Hazel tries online dating, and then starts over-analysing the emoji usage in her messages (we’ve all been there).
As we tentatively look forward to our lives post-vaccine, Hall’s play offers a few vital reminders about sex. Perhaps most importantly how you don’t owe sex to anyone, even if you’ve been on a date, made out a little, or done anything else with them. Ultimately no always means no.
Alongside issues of consent, the play also intelligently explores and questions popular notions of virginity. Hall attacks the fantasy of an ideal first time that the movies construct- importantly, sex in real life isn’t always perfect, and it isn’t always transformative. There is nothing to ‘lose’ when it comes to losing your virginity. The very concept did, after all, begin as a patriarchal construct designed to control women, to increase their marital value if they were ‘pure’, and to shun them if they were ‘fallen’. Things may seem a lot more modern now, but the lingering implications of virginity still hang over our heads. This is especially prevalent at uni, where the status of your virginity becomes a point of shame, something to ‘get rid of’ as quickly as possible.
Alison Hall is fighting off all these negative associations with her play, favouring instead personal autonomy, and a healthy dialogue about sex and consent. All this is included without a whiff of didacticism- the play is still a comedy that’ll make you laugh, while also making you think. V-Card masterfully captures the complicated sexual politics of our time and is certainly well worth a listen.
Illustration from Pendulum Productions.