It’s Abuse: “Herding Cats”

Photo by Danny Kaan. “Juliette” & Saddo.

Presented by OHenry Productions and Stellar, in association with Soho Theatre
By Lucinda Coxon
Directed by Anthony Banks
Featuring: Jassa Ahluwalia, Greg Germann, Sophie Melville

May 19–22, 2021
In-Person and Streaming Tickets available
Soho Theatre Company 
21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE
Herding Cats on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

STREAMING — It is really cool that Greg Germann is able to perform from Los Angeles with actors performing in London at the same time. Zoom theatre has changed the ecology of theatre drastically and it is super, heckin’ neato. Before the pandemic, actors had to be recorded in their respective locations in order for such a feat to be accomplished. Science fiction is now!

I’m not sure why Herding Cats was chosen as the production to show off this technology. It’s not a great script. It wants to be edgy but fails. 

The stakes for the audience are depressingly low, low like six-feet-underground-low. Coxon doesn’t tell or show us why we should care about her characters. We don’t know who they are. I don’t know why I’m supposed to give these characters my attention. They aren’t clever or funny but they aren’t particularly unpleasant or dull either. 

We only know these characters are English because of their accents. Justine carries groceries in the first scene so we know they eat. Maybe. We don’t actually see them eat… Or talk to anyone else, or live at all. We only hear about their lives. They aren’t universal characters either. 

Michael (Jassa Ahluwalia) is a young man living with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. He’s a sex worker on the internet by day to make ends meet. Justine (Sophie Melville) is his flatmate. Herding Cats watches the conversations between them. Michael discusses his clients. Justine relays the line-crossing interactions she has with her older, male boss who has the power to fire her.  

Photo by Danny Kaan. Justine and Michael.

Occasionally, we get to watch Michael roleplay with his client, Saddo (Greg Germann), over the phone as “Juliette.” Saddo is a sugar daddy. Juliette is his sugar baby. Their roleplayed relationship is sexual and incestuous. Juliette is a little girl, but Michael is an adult. Saddo, who’s real name we never learn, pays Michael handsomely for Michael’s time. He does so willingly until he begins to feel manipulated by Michael. 

Herding Cats wants us to consider whether there is something twisted or wrong with Michael and Saddo’s “Juliette” scenarios. Please consider that, something that isn’t attractive to one person, can be healthy between two consenting adults. Sex doesn’t have to be sexy to everyone. It should be sexy for the people having it.    

Herding Cats rides the faux-BDSM craze that rocked the western world when 50 Shades of Grey the movie came out. Herding Cats was published in 2016. 50 Shades of Grey became a best-selling novel in 2011 and a movie in 2015. Grown adults loved to whisper in quiet corners as if they did something naughty about how they saw that movie for weeks when it came out. There weren’t nearly enough articles educating audiences about what real BDSM looks like. The only naughty thing about 50 Shades is its inaccurate depiction of kink.     

It boggles the mind that people still don’t know the difference between abuse (50 Shades) and healthy kink (OnlyFans). 50 Shades is as representative of the BDSM community as Shakespeare in Love the movie is of a Shakespearean play. It isn’t. 50 Shades isn’t sexy; it’s abuse. Herding Cats isn’t about negotiating loneliness; it’s about abuses of power and trust and survivors’ consequential trauma responses.

Sex workers and other grown adults navigating a Sugar Daddy/Sugar baby sexual relationship know that the submissive has all of the power. A submissive sets the hard and soft boundaries of what is acceptable in sex play. Boundaries are determined via conversation/s outside of play. Consent is conditional: it can always be revoked by either party for any reason. It must be safe, sane and consensual or RACK: Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.

A play about persons so lonely that they would disregard their contract to fall in love would actually be interesting. But this play isn’t that. The characters discuss no contract so the audience can only assume that there is none. That’s dangerous to everyone involved. 

Photo by Danny Kaan. Michael and Justine.

Sex work is real work. There are rules and regulations for good reasons. It isn’t improv (unless that’s what a client requests). A dominant like Saddo cannot just introduce a new scenario to Juliette/Michael apropos of nothing. Doing this could terminate the relationship – which is, again, entirely up to the professional submissive (or dominant). 

Armie Hammer hit the news last summer because of accusations of abuse and violence. To sum up, between 2016 – 2020 Hammer allegedly told victims that he wanted to eat them. Not in the sexy way. He allegedly wanted to commit non-consensual cannibalism. There was allegedly at least one violent rape. Although these are kinks that people have, Hammer wasn’t allegedly performing kink; he was allegedly being abusive. Allegedly. 

Herding Cats is just titillating enough to be harmful to people who know nothing about sexual play and BDSM.  Herding Cats skirts too close a line to abuse for my taste. Rape fantasies are common. A fantasy can be enjoyable between consenting, educated adults practicing safer sex. Powerplay can be sexy. Rape is also fairly common, and it is a horrible tragedy. Abuse is reprehensible. It is up to consenting adults to determine the boundaries of their interactions so one doesn’t become the other.   

The acting in Herding Cats was good. The performances weren’t so good that I could forget about the writing. For all Herding Cats wasn’t, the acting was fine.

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