Sexual healing

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When The Big Sex Show opens at The Base in Camberwell next week, it will be controversial, but not in the sense you might expect. The show, presented by The Lawnmowers, focuses on an area of sexuality rarely shown on the stage and seldom discussed off it: the problems encountered by people with learning difficulties.

Pauline Murray, a community arts worker who works with the Newcastle- based group, points out that issues like safe sex and contraception need to be handled with care. For someone without literacy skills, it is not appropriate to hand over a pile of leaflets, while a trip to the family planning clinic might seem like a terrifying ordeal. The show focuses on issues like this through a comic storyline. "Comedy is the most powerful way of getting information across," Murray says. "And the piece is participatory. We end the show on an unsatisfactory note and then invite members of the audience to come out and suggest endings that will sort it out. lt gets people to ask the right questions."

The group has encountered some opposition. "We first performed it in a centre in Liverpool and were met with open hostility from some of the staff there," says Murray. "Their attitude was `they don't need to know about this'. A lot of people feel that to desex people is going to protect them. In fact, the opposite is often the case. Sexual abuse is quite a big problem for people with learning difficulties, particularly women." Jeff Jones, of the People to People project, which is hosting the play in London, points out that the show will celebrate sexuality while addressing the practical need for advice. "This is a taboo area. We professionals are often frightened to give people the information they need. While the show is fun and entertaining, it will put sexuality on the agenda." The show, which features an appearance from Condom Man, is specifically intended for people with learning difficulties, but the company also perform to mixed audiences and Murray points out that the show is useful in tackling the prejudice that surrounds this area. "It helps the audience to realise that, almost as a civil rights issue, people with learning difficulties need to express themselves sexually."

`The Big Sex Show' is performed at The Base, Umoja Theatre, Bethwin Rd, SE5 on 27 and 28 Mar. Further details (071-701 3414)