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Reviewing 'How To Flirt: The TED XXX Talk' at The Box, Soho: Missing Notes but Electric in its Bones

Daisy Doris May took the stage at The Box as drag king persona Steve Porter for one night only, before the show debuts at Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in the year.


With cheesy pick up lines, boy-band aspirations, and a DJ career straight out of his mum’s spare room, Daisy Doris May’s drag persona Steve Porter is a comically familiar figure for any Londoner. You’ll recognise Steve as one of the faces you’ve seen in a North London pub; a millennial guy from Guildford (and therefore, naturally, a DJ) who takes it upon himself to lecture you on his self-help journey, his “self-taught feminist” outlook, and his upcoming creative projects. And for one night at the renowned venue of The Box in Soho, Steve got his chance on the solo mic.

'How to Flirt: The TED XXX Talk' at The Box. Photo by @roscoreckless

Styled-out as a seminar on how to navigate flirting, this TED XXX TALK walks the line between comedy, drag, audience participation and powerpoint presentation, broken up by Steve’s genuinely impressive dance breaks. The lecture format was apt, inviting the audience into Steve’s world through the same unselfaware, preaching tone that he’d likely address you with in a club. Daisy humorously tapped into the stereotypical, straight, millennial lad from Surrey, with all his most cringe and cocky traits. 


May cleverly picks up on a certain culture of men, those who make an Instagrammable version of feminism central to their personality in order to pick up women. Steve boasts several times that he is a “self-taught feminist”, a quip that brought witty layers to this performance and draws attention to May’s own work of drag. Using a tampon as a pickup technique got Steve big laughs, and leaned further into the spine-tinglingly cringe caricature May carefully crafts. 


While all this familiarity certainly appeals, once the trope has been established I fear that it can only go so far. Structuring the session around B.I.R.D.S. as an acronym for how to date (be Bold, Interesting, Romantic… and so on) was a nice touch, one that improved the pace of the show and encapsulates Steve’s ironic approach to dating women. Though, at times, the performance becomes slightly repetitive. The repeated catchphrase “and that’s okay!” (which is Steve’s enlightened response to any dating rejection) serves its purpose, but is comedically lacklustre and mildly overplayed. On one hand, Steve is a man navigating modern dating rules while masking fumbling insecurity, rubbing his stubble and shouting “oh my days” when he finally gets a date from among the audience members. On the other hand, Steve is presented as a figure mature enough to give genuine dating advice, including on how to successfully handle rejection, respect others, and self-reflect in the show’s more tender moments. I would hesitate to call this paradox wholly convincing. Such emotional moments posed potential to be heartwarming, but relied somewhat on cliches that bring into question what version of ‘toxic masculinity’ the Steve Porter character is actually disrupting. 

'How to Flirt: The TED XXX Talk' at The Box. Photo by @roscoreckless

In short, Steve’s ego was a little too intact; for comedy’s sake, I longed for either gross overconfidence in the face of rejection or complete immersion within Steve’s shattered ego. May could’ve leaned a little further into the idea that Steve was still learning to accept that rejection is "okay" himself. As an audience member we crave a figure to root for or ridicule, and Steve’s journey of self-reflection anti-climatically seems to have already taken place prior to his presentation. Behind the cringe, Steve is perhaps a little bit too emotionally mature to be compelling. 


In ways, this may be due to May’s own skill as a character writer. Beyond the quips, the show presents an unexpectedly sympathetic portrayal of Steve; he's annoyingly likeable and confusingly self-aware. Steve is a complex and developed character, but at times this fails to land against the show’s light tone. For the sake of believing in Steve Porter, Mr “Lock Up Your Daughters”, I worry that his character wasn’t quite 'hetero' or pathetic enough.


This was perhaps the central missing component of the piece; the XXX show was rhetorically quite tame. For a show tackling gender binaries, cancel culture, modern dating and sexuality, I craved a bit more bite. The pop-culture references and stereotype of Steve felt a little bit like everyone in the room patting each other on the back, rather than pushing or challenging the topics at hand. 

'How to Flirt: The TED XXX Talk' at The Box. Photo by @roscoreckless

Part of the issue here might just be that May is a little too inescapably cool, and this seeps into Steve. The dance numbers, role play scenes, and the final poem that mutilates the Lord’s Prayer into a call of "Lord Let her Come" were highlights of the night and displayed the performer’s hat-trick talent as a dancer, actor, and writer. 


The most electric parts of the performance worked with audience participation. The highlight being when Steve lives out his dream of being in a boy-band with the help of his two backup dancers, new friends from the audience that May had skilfully built up a repertoire with throughout the night. At another moment in the show, Daisy unexpectedly passes the mic to audience members and casually says “you’ve got this” before starting a new role-play scene. These were particularly clever moments, showing May’s witty and exciting capacity as a theatre maker. 


Fun, cleverly cocky and dynamic, How To Flirt: The Ted XXX Talk undeniably ignited the crowd at The Box. With an exciting future at Edinburgh Fringe, I look forward to seeing the future development of May's show which, despite its missing notes, is electric in its bones.



 

Written and edited by Theatre Editor, Georgia Gibson.

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