Comedy and the Kama Sutra

Caroline Curran is talking about sex – on stage

Three years ago Caroline Curran was successful stage manager and frustrated actress, struggling to get directors to see her on stage instead of back stage. ‘I loved my job,’ she recalls, ‘but acting was my passion. On opening night, I would just stand there watching the actors and wish it was me.’

That was then, these days Curran has just finished a sold-out one-woman show at the MAC (the theatrical adaptation of 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue), will be starring in the comeback of Terra Nova’s The Ulster Kama Sutra at the Grand Opera House (an Ulster adaptation of the Kama Sutra…with puppets) and her other one-woman show Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. ‘I still can’t believe it,’ Curran laughs, perched on a bench in the MAC cafe. ‘I’m walking on air.’

Curran’s also been talking her fair share of filth as the lovelorn (well, sort of) Maggie Muff, the narrator and protagonist of parody 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue. She admits a few people have told her they ‘can’t believe you just said that’, but argues that it’s nothing people don’t talk about with their mates around a kitchen table. ‘It’s just that this kitchen table had 300 people around it.’

Besides, Curran finds it so lonely backstage on her own that it was a relief to get out there on stage and have a chat.

It might, though, have been more daunting without Curran’s prior experience in the The Ulster Kama Sutra. Once you’ve presented puppet porn to a Cathedral Quarter Arts audience, Maggie Muff is practically tame by comparison.

Curran got involved with the The Ulster Kama Sutra in its developmental stages, helping director and creator Andrea Montgomery man the risqué story-collecting Foxy Box of Thoughts as well as performing on stage. She’s delighted to be returning to the stage with the production at the Grand Opera House.

Not least because it means she gets to see one cast member, who’d become very special to her, again. Curran shows off a picture of herself with her personalised The Ulster Kama Sutra puppet alter-ego, ‘How could you not love that little face?’

Based on an idea by Montgomery, the Ulster Kama Sutra collects stories and anecdotes about relationships and sex from local people and recounts them on stage using the joint framing device of the Kama Sutra and puppets. It all sounds a bit bizarre – even before you get to the detachable, crocheted sexual organs – but it turns out that puppets make everything better.

‘Using the puppets, instead of us being up there as actors, makes it saver and friendlier,’ Curran explains. It gives the audience enough distance that they can laugh instead of being shocked. ‘Sometimes people even forget that the actors are on stage, they get so focused on the puppets.’

Curran adds that it took a lot of work to make the puppets that compelling. Before being cast in Ulster Kama Sutra she had no experience whatsoever of being a puppeteer. ‘It was a steep learning curve. I had to pick it up really quickly.’ The slight Curran also had to pick her puppet up higher than her taller cast-mates, leading to a few aches and pain.  ‘It takes a surprising amount of upper body strength.’

None of that stopped Curran from ‘having so much fun’ with the production, from the puppet porn film to the Ulster translation of the Kama Sutra. Her favourite memory, however, is about collecting the anecdotes in the first place.

‘There was a wee old woman and she didn’t want to about sex at all,’ Curran recalls. ‘Then all of a sudden, she starts talking about transvestism. “My husband dressed up as a woman,” she said. “It was the best sex we ever had.” It came out of nowhere.’

The latest version of The Ulster Kama Sutra includes a couple of new sketches and new cast member Shri Patel – who’ll be getting his own personalised puppet. Patel is of British Indian heritage, and Curran says they really wanted to cast someone from that background in the show.

‘We want to be clear that we’re not doing a send up of the Kama Sutra,’ Curran says. ‘Before the show started we had someone, Abhishek, come in to teach us about the cultural background of the book. It’s one of the three holy books and it’s just not about sex. It’s about how to have a good relationship and how to treat people. It’s actually lovely. We wanted to have someone from that background in the show.’

The next few months are going to be busy ones for Curran. Not only is The Ulster Kama Sutra opening at the Grand Opera House on February 12, after its sell-out success at the MAC 50 Shades of Red, White and Blue will also be at the Grand Opera House on August 13. Curran is also taking her one-woman show Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History to the Brighton Fringe in May 2013. She’s particularly looking forward to that, since she gets to play one of her favourite characters again: serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

‘She lets me show I’m not just a comedic actress. She’s kind of at the other end of the spectrum,’ Curran says. ‘When the play was at the Lyric Theatre a man came up to me afterwards and said I’d scared, but all I did was sit in a chair.’

The Ulster Kama Sutra is at the Grand Opera House from February 12 – 23,  Feb, 28 at Market Place Theatre, March 1-2 at The Derry Playhouse, March 5-6 at The Courtyard Theatre , March 7 at the Riverside Theatre and March 8 at Down Arts Centre.