REVIEW: Grief-Sex-Race (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Erin O'Flaherty

[Laughing Through It]

Grief, sex and race are not only three distinct words that sum up the themes and talking points of this comedy-musical, but the show also amalgamates them together to describe a unique experience and state of mind: the grief-sex-race.

Creators and performers Jess Karamjeet and Sophie Gibson share fragments of their lives with us, centred around their ‘unfortunate thing in common’ – grief. The loss of a father to illness; the loss of a brother to suicide. Grief has permeated their experience of the world, often in surprising and funny ways. Over the course of an hour, they elucidate through sections of song and stand-up how grief and sex can weirdly overlap, and discuss the intersection of familial relations and culture.

Karamjeet has a gentle charisma which fuels her comedy in a unique way, making her a joy to watch. Gibson’s musical talents are clear and, though this was her first time doing stand-up, she was able to match Karamjeet’s quick humour. Both performers were extremely relatable and had the audience in stitches numerous times.

Some sections (though funny) felt a bit tangential, and I wish they had spent the time examining grief in more depth. As someone who’s never felt such grief, I was hoping to gain more insight into the experience. Although I enjoyed hearing about the strange ways that grief and death can produce comedy, I couldn’t help but feel that we were only scratching the surface.

There was, however, a nice moment towards the end of the show, during the grief-sex race (which was a thing!), where finally the true weight of grief began to permeate. Jess was too tired (and perhaps defeated) to continue the race. Sophie sat with her, and Jess informed her that this race has no finish line – a lovely metaphor for the ongoing exhaustion of grief. The two then shared an intimate, quiet moment. Suddenly they were not focussed on us anymore, but only on the space in between each other. We were privy to a moment of genuine friendship and empathetic comradery, in which music soothed and uplifted. I think this moment could even have lasted longer, to allow us to really sit in it, before the somewhat abrupt turn back to the audience, to optimism and comedy.

Although Grief-Sex-Race was a funny and somewhat moving romp, the show felt a bit rough around the edges, and not in a totally intentional way. I think there is room to explore and interrogate the themes more deeply. I, for one, would love to see another iteration of the show that takes the creativity of the ‘grief-sex race’ and applies it throughout. Nevertheless, Grief-Sex-Race is a great night out for comedy lovers. It’s a show about the healing power of laughter, with fresh and often absurd humour, and performers that are a pleasure to watch. Karamjeet and Gibson clearly have a wealth of potential, and I cannot wait to see where they go next.

Grief-Sex-Race plays Q Vault 30 August to 3 September, 2022 as part of Auckland Fringe.

DECLARATION: Jess Karamjeet is a Theatre Scenes contributor.

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