JUST Don’t Do It is a show about celibacy and sex, featuring Jesus as a vagina in puppet form, in Beside Ourselves Collective’s contribution to the York Festival of Ideas.

Devised, written and presented by London theatre-makers Eleanor Young and Kate Mounce at Friargate Theatre, Lower Friargate, on Friday night, the duo’s debut production is rooted in personal experience, American purity culture and an ancient matriarchal myth.

“Growing up, I had somehow understood that what Jesus cared about most was my virginity,” says co-creator and performer Eleanor.

“The only thing that Kate and I thought really mattered about being Christian was staying ‘pure’: sexless until the big white wedding day. It’s a message that the Church can put across strongly at youth services, so it took a long time for us to realise that there was much more depth to Christianity and our own personal faith.”

Beside Ourselves Collective was formed with a mission to bring the truth about the duo’s shared faith to the stage through comedy and clowning. “Based on our personal experiences of growing up in church, Just Don’t Do It shares insight into Christian sex education for girls and the damaging legacy of virginity obsession,” says Kate.

She and Eleanor play Trish and Tash, enthusiastic youth leaders at a Christian summer camp in 1999, who attempt to deliver a powerful chastity sermon to the audience, whom they cast as teenage girls.

Their top tips for “saving yourself until marriage” are as follows: no tempting the boys with inappropriate clothing; always using “safe” dance moves, and valuing virginity above all else. Tash can deliver that script with personal zeal, but Trish is not so convinced, and when the teaching becomes more extreme, she starts to rebel.

Tash’s repressive tactics go into overdrive, clashing with Trish’s anarchic streak, whereupon irreparable cracks appear in their relationship and the ground opens up beneath them.

York Press:

SEX, FAITH AND FRIENDSHIP: Kate Mounce and Eleanor Young have much to discuss in Just Don't Do It. Picture: Ali Wright

“It will take an epic journey into a mythical realm, a surprising spiritual encounter and some singing vulva puppets to reconsider everything they thought they knew about sex, faith and friendship,” says Kate.

Just Don’t Do It’s tour has been drawing new audiences from churches into theatre venues. “We aim to use our brand of comedy to disarm the fear around modern art in Christian communities and misconceptions around religion in the mainstream,” says Eleanor. “We also want to empower women from faith backgrounds to talk openly about their experience of sexuality.”

Supported by Arts Council England, Besides Ourselves are running frank discussion forums on faith and sex alongside each show. On Friday, Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of York and Kate's sister-in-law to boot, will chair a Q&A session after the 7.30pm performance.

“Loads of women have been left with a sense of shame about their sexuality because of what they heard in church. Mainstream culture is much more comfortable with discussing female experiences and the Church has yet to catch up,” says Kate. “This show is definitely a conversation starter.”

A turning point for the London company came when Beside Ourselves worked with comedy artist Deanna Fleysher, director of Red B**tard, in her home town of Bellingham, Washington, USA. “Her unique approach to contemporary clowning allowed us to delve deep into the truth of our experiences and personal disagreements on the subject, and transform the material into absurd clown theatre,” says Eleanor. “This enabled us to talk about the controversial topic of sex and religion within Christian contexts.”

Kate and Eleanor describe the chance to present Just Don’t Do It at Friargate Theatre, the home of York’s Christian theatre company, Riding Lights, as a “dream come true”.

“Riding Lights have been at the forefront of faith-based performance and we’ve followed their work since childhood,” says Kate. “Now we’re ready to become the new face of faith-themed theatre, not afraid to laugh at ourselves or challenge the institutions we love.”

Directed by Deanna Fleysher, with a set design by Matt Lloyd and Ruth Smith, Just Don’t Do It is suitable for age 14 upwards. Tickets are on sale at £10, concessions £8, on 01904 613000 or at ridinglights.org/just-dont-do-it/.