Pink, Wet, Complicated [by Rosabel Tan]
When I tell a guy at work I’m going to The Sex Show, he laughs. “You’re not,” he says. He pauses. “You are.”
“I am.” He looks disappointed and mildly confused. “Do you want to come?”
“Not really,” he screws up his nose. “Maybe.”
It’s an interesting reaction and there are plenty more to come, because as it turns out, the type of people who attend a show offering “a snapshot of New Zealand’s sexual psyche” on a Friday night are couples, some young, many middle-aged, a few families and a scattering of older-looking men.
Devised by The Outfit Theatre Company and first staged last year, The Sex Show comprises of a series of vignettes depicting various sexual experiences: you have twenty-something couples experimenting with cyber-sex, bar-toilet sex, stick-everything-up-everywhere sex; young girls grinding frantically on the dancefloor; younger girls grinding frantically on their soft toys; sexually starved housewives and their Family Party politician husbands; couples avoiding temptation, or not; despicable men; and a chirpy band of sexual creatures taken straight from the set of a children’s show that’s gone horribly wrong – but with characters like Fellatio Fox (Ema Barton), Sex Panda (Brad Johnson), Cunnilingus Cat (Tarquinn Kennedy) and the Clitoracle (Heidi Kauta), you know you’re in good hands.
Under the direction of Joel Herbert, each scene is short and well-paced and the 19-strong ensemble cast maintain a high energy throughout, though at first they’re incredibly difficult to hear. I’d recommend getting a seat up front if you go – I was at the back and missed a lot of the dialogue at the beginning, though you got the general gist (it’s sex). The one benefit of where we were sitting was the vantage point it gave: you could see the entirety of the set, sleek illuminated boxes with chandeliers and oversized glass bulbs hanging from above. You could watch the audience. You could watch them progress from genuine laughter to nervous tittering to faltering grins to that final, uncomfortable silence. You could watch them during those moments when you expected silence and found none; when you found laughter instead, leaving you feeling disturbed and uncomfortable. And it happens. Because a peculiar thing happens in the show: it turns on you. About halfway through. It stops being the light-hearted and fun time you’ve relaxed into, and you’re suddenly presented with a series of difficult and sometimes nasty situations.
This is where things get interesting. The Sex Show is based on an anonymous poll the company conducted asking people for their deepest sexual secrets, but the real revelation comes from watching your own and the audience’s reactions. What makes you uncomfortable. What makes everyone else uncomfortable. What you find funny, what others don’t or, much to your alarm, do, and this is why certain storylines and characters are such powerful experiences – Joe Masters (Bede Skinner), for instance, the All Black whose machismo translates in terrifying ways into the bedroom, played by Skinner with a quietly menacing magnetism. Or the casual jokes about rape made by young men. It’s these sorts of narratives that challenge its audience, while others threaten to become caricature or cliché – resisting the level of realism that others achieve, because while it’s a show about sex, sex is about relationships, about power and insecurities and vulnerabilities, too, and at times these aspects felt overly neglected.
Still, its theatre that’s fun, that takes risks, that attempts to capture something real about New Zealand, and if – as my friend whispered as we walked out of the theatre – it makes you feel dirty, in the bad way, and makes you want to talk about it, then that’s pretty good too.
The Sex Show is presented by Outfit Theatre Company and STAMP at THE EDGE and plays at The Town Hall Concert Chamber until 13 October. More details see The Edge.
Plus James Wenley’s review of the original Fringe season 2011.