A sweet and different kind of love story takes to the stage in That’s Ace, as alternative, neurodivergent-coded and Doctor Who fanatic Ace (the name is more than coincidental) must navigate a space she hates while waiting to hang out with a girl she loves – she thinks.
Love is a difficult thing, and even more so when you’re asexual, and experience little to no sexual attraction. In offering a subversive take on relationships, norms are critiqued with a genuine curiosity fitting for a character drawn to the ethereal and the wonderful. When sex is taken out of the equation, when does a desire to spend more time with someone become love, rather than something platonic?
A difficult question, as in the time we spend with the amiable Ace – which is a lot shorter then the hour billed on the VAULT website – we see her appreciation for the little things, like the smile and warm personality of Sasha, who she has an interest in. For the asexuals in the audience (of which, full disclosure, I am one), it is an all too real representation of the details which matter more to us.
For everyone else, it not only encourages them to think about an experience which stands in contrast to their own, but also encourages them to greater appreciate these often under-acknowledged elements of romance. The fact actor Tiffany Marina Pearmund (who plays Ace with a superb balance of silliness and sarcasm) spends a fair amount of time wandering through the audience and the wooden benches only further confirms this play as being a collective experience.
It lends itself to cheeky humour as well, where the normal sexual activities of the majority are placed under the microscope – and while Ace isn’t too keen on doing it herself, she doesn’t shy away from raising an eyebrow at behaviours which feel completely unusual to her. I mean, the opening of the play is an awkward sex education class where Ace fails to apply a condom to a fake phallus, before being shunned by the teacher for questioning whether someone has to risk an STD in order to have unprotected sex, for example. There’s also a brilliant line about turtles which may be the most random but hilarious bit of dialogue I’ve heard uttered in a VAULT show this year.
A common ingredient for comedy is the subversion of expectations, and it’s all too easy to do that when what you expect from a relationship is entirely different to most people. A moment when we expect Ace to lean in and kiss Sasha instead becomes an introduction to Doctor Who. When she finally plucks up the courage to tell Sasha how she feels in the club’s smoking area, a person she met earlier becomes an awkward interruption. The typical hallmarks of what constitutes a romantic play, as well as what writer Jonny Brace wants to say in his piece, are either stripped away, or merely inferred. In fact, a lot of That’s Ace is actually a tale of self-discovery. However, where a deviance from the normal elements of a rom-com might pose a problem for any other show, here it makes for a touching and profound production.
That’s Ace is now playing at VAULT Festival until 17 March.
Production Images: Stuart Wilson.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘That’s Ace’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.